A new bidding process for onshore oil and gas exploration licenses was opened by the UK government last week.

In this licensing round, companies can apply for a license for conventional onshore oil and gas exploration and development, as well as exploration and development of tight gas, coalbed methane, mine vent gas and shale oil and gas.

Accessing Britain's shale gas reserves has the potential to provide greater energy security, jobs and economic growth, commented Business and Energy Minister Matthew Hancock.

Before drilling can begin, license holders will need to make a drilling application which will require planning permission as well as permits from the Environment Agency and approval from the Health and Safety Executive.

Special guidelines will apply to license applications made for unconventional oil and gas development in National Parks, World Heritage Sites and other areas of special interest. Such applications will require detailed Statements of Environmental Awareness, demonstrating applicants' understanding of the environmental sensitivities relevant to the particular area. In addition, to ensure the guidance is being properly applied, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles will have the right to overturn planning decisions for at least the next 12 months.

Still, the government said that applications in these areas should be refused unless there are exceptional circumstances and such development is in the public interest.