Published: 11:30, 23 May 2014
Large areas of Kent have extensive supplies of shale oil – raising the prospect that parts of the county could be the focus of an energy oil rush.
A report by the British Geographical Survey published today has mapped out where billions of barrel are likely to be found and the Weald has been identified as just one area of the country where drilling could take place.
The news will worry those concerned about the impact of drilling for oil as it would involve fracking techniques.
At the same time, the government has announced a consultation on plans that would strengthen the rights of energy companies to set up drilling sites despite objections.
Under the plans, announced by Kent MP and energy minister Michael Fallon, companies would gain a right of access for sites below 300 metres. Local communities would be eligible for a voluntary payment of £20,000 per well.
Business and energy minister Michael Fallon said: "Britain needs more home-grown energy.
"Shale development will bring jobs and business opportunities. We are keen for shale and geothermal exploration to go ahead while protecting residents through the robust regulation that is in place.
"These proposals allow shale and geothermal development while offering a fair deal for communities in return for underground access at depths so deep they will have no negative impact on landowners."
The issue of fracking is politically contentious. It is supported by the Conservatives, who believe it could drive down energy prices but opposition is high among in areas, with concerns that the technique could prove damaging to the environment.
The government has also announced plans to change trespass laws to make it harder for homeowners to object to drilling on private land.
The potential discovery of oil reserves last year drew a qualified welcome by the Tonbridge and Malling MP Sir John Stanley.
He said if drilling could be done safely and without disruption to residents, it should be allowed.
"My view is that there has been a near disastrous failure by successive governments to generate a sufficient degree of energy security," he said.
"With declining North Sea reserves and nuclear power stations are becoming obsolete and shut down, we should have seen this coming.
"Reliable energy supplies are the life-blood of a modern economy."
He added he would back extraction if it could be done in a way that was environmentally safe.
"It would have to be on a location by location basis," he said. "I would want it to be properly monitored and done in an environmentally safe way."
The study is reported to have assessed potential shale gas supplies in the area, but instead discovered oil was a potentially bigger resource.
If so, Kent could become a focus for the battle over the need for new energy supplies.
However, environmental campaigners believe that the extraction of shale gas through fracking is unreliable.
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