London - France’s Total is set to become the first major oil company to invest in Britain’s nascent shale gas industry, sources said, boosting hopes for a pick-up in exploration to help assess the commerciality of the resource. Total will on Monday announce a deal to commit 30 million pounds ($50 million) to drilling for shale gas in Lincolnshire in central England, two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters, confirming details published in the Telegraph newspaper. The French giant, worth about 103 billion euros ($141 billion), will partner with smaller explorers Dart Energy , Egdon Resources, IGas and eCORP, on two exploration licences.
Geological studies show Britain to have large shale reserves which could reverse a rising dependency on energy imports, but more drilling is needed to see whether the deposits are economic. Britain’s government has thrown its weight behind shale gas exploration despite strong local and environmental opposition to the extraction practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, used to develop shale and unconventional gas blocks. Total said last year that it would be interested in signing up for a position in Britain’s shale gas resources, and its entry will follow that of two large utilities, France’s GDF Suez and Britain’s Centrica in 2013 who both agreed deals in 2013. Total, eCorp and Dart could not immediately be reached for comment while Egdon and IGas declined to comment.