An independent report commissioned and published by the UK government says that the extraction of shale gas should go ahead provided that measures are taken to mitigate the risks of seismic tremors.

A panel of independent experts has submitted a report to the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) saying that minor earthquakes observed in the northwest of England in 2011 were caused by hydraulic fracturing – ‘fracking’ – the method used to extract shale gas.

The report suggests a number of measures that should be taken to mitigate the risk of seismic events during shale gas extraction, including a pre-injection and monitoring phase and an effective monitoring system during operations.

It was commissioned by the government last year after an investigation by oil firm Cuadrilla Resources into two minor earthquakes near its Preese Hall well.

The report is good news for the UK government, which is keen to develop a shale gas sector in the UK. “If shale gas is to be part of the UK’s energy mix we need to have a good understanding of its potential environmental impacts and what can be done to mitigate those impacts,” said DECC Chief Scientific Advisor David MacKay.

“This comprehensive independent expert review of Cuadrilla’s evidence suggests a set of robust measures to make sure future seismic risks are minimised – not just at this location but at any other potential sites across the UK.”

Hydraulic fracturing – also known as ‘fracking’ – involves the injection of large amounts of water with chemicals into horizontal wells. In addition to seismic risks, opponents of the technology are concerned about the potential environmental impacts of shale gas extraction.

Greenpeace said in a statement that widespread fracking in the UK would “be very damaging for UK efforts to tackle climate change” and that a new dash for gas would “hijack” investment destined for the renewable energy industry.

WWF also voiced its concerns about more widespread use of natural gas in the UK. “The idea that gas is the solution to climate change is a myth put out by vested interests,” said WWF’s Jenny Banks. “The fact is, if we replaced all the coal used in power generation with ‘cleaner’ gas, greenhouse gas emission levels would still be six times too high.”

The industrial sector has welcomed the report, however. “The government has signalled that gas should play a big part in moving to a low-carbon economy, so it makes sense to explore new gas sources here, rather than increasingly depend on sources from elsewhere in the world,” said Rhian Kelly, CBI Business Director for Business Environment Policy. “Provided safety standards are observed, shale gas could unlock significant new infrastructure investments, help meet our carbon reduction goals and create many new jobs around the UK.”

The report gives Cuadrilla the go-ahead to resume operations at its UK sites near Blackpool. The firm believes that the field it is exploring contains up to 5660 billion m3 of gas, but had to halt its activities after the two earthquakes registering 2.3 and 1.5 on the Richter scale occurred in April and May last year.