Prime Minister David Cameron has backed controversial comments about fracking made by energy minister Michael Fallon, and said that more should be done to promote the “exciting” potential shale gas offers for energy security, jobs and growth.
There is growing unease among MPs about the possible damage caused by efforts to extract the fuel, and a spokesperson for Mr Cameron said he only backed the practice if it posed “no risk” to the environment.
The comments indicate a stepping up of the Government’s efforts to promote public knowledge of fracking, following suggestions from Conservative former minister Nick Herbert that its unpopularity among Britain’s rural populations stems from a “fear of the unknown”.
Mr Herbert told the Telegraph: “People are worried about the implications and they don't have enough information to know how damaging it will be.
“It is the fear of the unknown that is exacerbating local concerns. People understand the national arguments about the need for secure and cheap energy, but they don't know how much this is going to damage the local environment.”
Referring to Mr Fallon’s reported views on the “beauty” of seeing energy extraction impacting the homes of commentators in the South East who have called for politicians to get a move on with fracking in the North West, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said the comments were “light hearted”.
The spokesman stressed the importance of local involvement in the planning process and highlighted the obligations placed on firms carrying out fracking to offer £100,000 of benefits to communities for each well fracked during the exploration phase.
“The Prime Minister's view is that shale gas exploration does represent an exciting new potential resource for Britain and it's important for Government to communicate that to people so people can see what the benefits of shale gas exploration could be,” he said.
“He feels that we need to continue to communicate that message to people.”
Mr Fallon’s suggestion that there could be large areas of southern England sitting on valuable shale reserves could be welcome news to those fearing that the North West will take the full brunt of the impact of fracking.
Lancaster and Fleetwood MP Eric Ollerenshaw warned the North would not be prepared to absorb the potential environmental damage while the South reaped the financial rewards.
Lancashire has been identified as one of the areas of Britain with most potential for hydraulic fracturing, which involves using water and chemicals to break up rocks deep underground, with a recent report suggesting there may be 1,300 trillion cubic feet of shale gas present.
But Mr Ollerenshaw said it was important that any extraction operations benefited people in the county.
He said: “This is not to become a North-South divide... We want (a) level playing field across the country. We do not want - and it looks at the moment - that the North gets the dirty end and the South sucks up all the energy.”