The British government plans to make more land available for licensing for oil and natural gas exploration in the first such expansion since 2008. The move, which had been anticipated by the oil and gas industry, could prove to be a milestone in efforts by the government of Prime Minister David Cameron to encourage the extraction of natural gas and oil from shale rock.
The government wants new sources of oil and gas to help replace Britain’s declining offshore production in the North Sea, to create jobs and to ease growing dependence on fuel imports, especially from Russia.
Mr. Cameron and his colleagues have observed that abundant shale gas and oil have increased the economic competitiveness of the United States, and they want to see if Britain, too, can benefit.
“Unlocking shale gas in Britain has the potential to provide us with greater energy security, jobs and growth,” the business and energy minister, Matthew Hancock, said in a statement released just after midnight Monday.
Shale gas exploration has been progressing at what seems to be a slow pace, but operators say the gradual changes Mr. Cameron has made to Britain’s regulations are giving the country a chance to emerge as an attractive destination for shale investment.
Other European governments have been harder to convince that shale gas is worth the potential political unrest. Many Europeans worry that the hydraulic fracturing technique, known as fracking, that is used in shale production could pollute underground water supplies and lead to other environmental damage.
France has banned fracking while Germany has in place a de facto moratorium on the practice.