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Ukraine crisis: David Cameron pushes for fracking to lessen reliance on Russian oil

  • @NigelpMorris

David Cameron insisted that fracking would start this year as he argued that Britain was obliged because of the Ukraine crisis to press ahead with plans to drill for shale gas.

The emergency triggered by the annexation of Crimea should be a “wake-up call” over the need for Europe to become less reliant on Russian gas supplies, he said.

But environmental groups accused the Prime Minister of exploiting the emergency to press ahead with the controversial technique.

Mr Cameron forecast that some shale gas wells would be “up and running” by the end of this year and insisted that enthusiasm for fracking as an alternative energy source would grow once it had begun.

The process involves releasing gas trapped in shale deep underground by blasting a mixture of sand, water and chemicals into rock at high pressure.

The British Geological Survey has estimated there could be 1,300trn cubic feet of shale gas underneath wide stretches of the United Kingdom.

Supporters, who include Conservative ministers, argue that fracking has the potential to drive down energy prices and boost the economy by tapping into the reserves.

However, critics say that fracking can contaminate the water supply and create environmental harm including earth tremors.

Mr Cameron's comments, following the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague, reflects growing concern that European leaders are limited in the pressure they can put on Moscow because of their dependence on Russia for supplies of gas. Officials believe Britain can learn from the speed with which the United States has embraced fracking.

The Prime Minister said: “Why has it taken so long in the UK and Europe as compared to the US? We can ponder that or alternatively we can just do what this Government is doing which is to roll up the sleeves, simplify the process, make the permissions easier, getting on with some wells moving.”

He argued: “There's a lack of understanding about the nature of what actually happens and how much it has in common with the ways that we extract gas in the world today.”

Mr Cameron said he believed that it was Europe's duty to become more energy-dependent, including through the development of fracking.

“I think something positive should come out of this for Europe, which is to take a long hard look at its energy resilience.”

But Caroline Lucas, the Green MP, said: “Britain hardly imports any gas from Russia, and while the PM is right to raise the importance of energy self-sufficiency, he is utterly misguided if he thinks fracking is the way to get it.”

Lawrence Carter, Greenpeace's UK energy campaigner, said: “This is a cynical attempt by the Prime Minister to exploit the Ukraine crisis to force through his unpopular plans for fracking in the face of growing public opposition.”

He said: “The most pragmatic and sensible way of boosting our energy security is to massively reduce the amount of energy we waste, while also investing in tried and tested clean energy technologies.”

Tony Bosworth, Friends of the Earth energy campaigner, said: “Shale gas has been hugely over-hyped, threatens local communities and is unlikely to come on stream in any quantity until the 2020s at the earliest, making it the wrong response to the current crisis in the Ukraine.”