This is a tricky questions to answer as there are quite a lot of variables to consider including the planning process. Operators need to apply for a get permission from local councils before they can explore for shale gas and oil which can take months.
The initial exploration process to determine whether gas can be extracted can take around two to four months but, before this, the company involved will have had to been granted planning permission from the local council, which can itself take many months.
After the exploration phase, the results are assessed and further tests will often be carried out for four to six months. If these results prove that shale gas can be extracted safely and efficiently, the operator will apply for planning permission to move into production. This diagram, produced by the Government’s Department for Energy and Climate Change, shows the stages and lengths of time of exploration and development.
Once the site has finished producing natural gas or oil it is then decommissioned in order to return the site to its original condition. This involves removing all of the surface equipment and making sure that the wells are safely blocked. Typically, this process takes around six months.
We assume that your question also referred to drilling for fossil fuels more broadly. Of course, we agree that it is important to invest in renewable sources of energy as well.
Most experts believe that the UK should have a mix of energy sources but should do more to reduce carbon emissions1. In 2013, renewables accounted for just under 6% of the UK’s overall energy – including heating, transport and electricity – so natural gas will still be needed for some time as the share of renewables grows2.
Stephen Tindale, the former director of Greenpeace, said in May 2014 that climate campaigners should support fracking for shale gas. He says that the reason for this is that the use of shale gas would enable the UK to reduce the burning of coal.3
Professor Richard Selley from Imperial College London said: “You may also be interested to know that renewable energy, solar, wind and batteries for hybrid cars, etc. all use rare earth minerals. 80% of the world’s supply comes from Northern Mongolia from two huge opencast mines that can be seen from space satellites. These minerals are mined, refined, and shipped all around the world. Some of the elements used in renewables, such as cadmium, are so toxic that when no longer used, have to be disposed of in a manner akin to nuclear waste disposal. Furthermore, 80% of the UK’s homes have access to gas for cooking and heating. To switch to using electricity from the renewable energy sources would necessitate reconfiguring the National Power Grid at crippling expense.”