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College to be fracking training hub

Blackpool and The Fylde College has been named as the UK hub for the National College for Onshore Oil and Gas.

The college is being set up by United Kingdom Onshore Oil and Gas (UKOOG), the body which represents the onshore oil and gas industry.

A UKOOG report released earlier this year said the development of shale gas in the UK could create a £33 billion investment opportunity for British business with the potential to create over 64,000 jobs.

The college aims to deliver a comprehensive range of advanced qualifications, up to and including honours degree programmes, and produce the highly skilled engineers and technicians of the future.

College principal Bev Robinson said: "This is very positive news for Blackpool, the Fylde coast and the whole of Lancashire. B&FC are delighted to be able to contribute to the country's energy industry and ultimately production capacity.

"Crucially, this will drive long-term investment in the region, meet the demand for highly skilled labour and secure local jobs. To be named as the hub for one of the National Colleges is a privilege. It is testament to the college's well-established relationships with industry partners and high-quality skills training up to and including honours degree programmes."

Energy firm Cuadrilla is currently seeking planning permission to drill, hydraulically fracture and test the flow of gas from exploration wells on two sites in the Fylde area of west Lancashire.

Francis Egan, CEO of Cuadrilla, said: "We are delighted that the new National College for the onshore oil and gas industry is to be headquartered at Blackpool and The Fylde College. Several independent studies have shown that the development of a shale gas industry in the region will generate tens of thousands of jobs and this new National College will give the North West region a head start in developing the skills that are needed for a productive shale gas industry."

Greg McKenna, director of non operated assets at Centrica Energy, said: "We welcome the commitment to a National College for the onshore oil and gas sector, which marks an important step forward for the industry.

"Blackpool and The Fylde College is an outstanding educational establishment which is well placed to play a key role in delivering the National College initiative. High quality training programmes are extremely important to the future of the energy industry, as year on year the UK is faced with a growing shortage of engineers. Initiatives such as the National College will help us tackle this issue, and allow young people greater access to training opportunities which will lead to skilled jobs.

"We are pleased to offer our support to Blackpool and The Fylde College and all of the partner organisations who will be involved in delivering the National College programme."

Energy minister Matthew Hancock will officially make the announcement later today and lay a foundation stone at the college's Advanced Technology Centre.

Cuadrilla believes that Lancashire's Bowland basin has the potential to become a leading shale gas resource.

It suspended test drilling in June 2011, though, following two earthquakes in the area in April and May of that year, one with a magnitude of 2.3 and the other 1.4, with the epicentre thought to be about 500 metres away from a well in Weeton, Lancashire.

An independent report by experts later concluded the drilling was the probable cause of the tremors but it was due to an "unusual combination of geology" at the well site and was unlikely to be repeated.

Hundreds of protesters attended a six-day long Reclaim The Power camp in August near to the Little Plumpton proposed site to campaign against shale gas extraction in the region by the controversial process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

Mr Hancock said: "The geological evidence of the potential of shale gas is clear. The question is how much we can extract - and the only way to find out is to start exploring.

"Just like when North Sea oil was in its early stages, exploring the potential of shale gas is important to fully understand the impact.

"Everyone agrees that shale gas offers the potential for significant economic opportunities to the UK, whether it is the jobs it will create or the greater energy security it will provide. The question is just how much, and it is incumbent on us to find out.

"That's why today we are announcing an investment in the people who will make the potential of shale a reality.

"Creating a National College for Onshore Oil and Gas in Blackpool, linked to a number of other colleges across the country, we are going to help people get the skills they need to be world leaders in the field.

"And we are working on a sovereign wealth fund, to ensure the benefits - whatever scale they are - are shared fairly."

Green Party energy spokesman Andrew Cooper said: "The UK needs to be investing more in renewable energy, not finding more exotic ways of extracting hydrocarbons from the ground.

"The UK is likely to fail to achieve its EU renewable energy targets. It is clear that the self-proclaimed 'greenest government ever' has the wrong priorities."

Friends of the Earth North West campaigner Helen Rimmer said: "The North West deserves investment in jobs and skills, but this should be in energy sectors of the future such as tidal, wave and solar which the region has in abundance - not dead-end fossil fuels.

"Energy experts have revealed today that the Government has completely oversold the benefits of fracking and there is no evidence it will help security of supply or bring down prices.

"If our energy ministers think fracking will help tackle the nation's energy challenges perhaps they need to go back to college."

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