Demonstrators try to block the road as police escort a lorry to a site run by Cuadrilla Resources outside Balcombe, West Sussex

PM backs 'exciting' fracking potential

Prime Minister David Cameron believes more needs to be done to promote the benefits of fracking, according to a spokesman.

The Prime Minister believes that shale gas offers "exciting" potential for energy security, jobs and growth and the government needs to do more to promote the benefits, but it should only be carried out if there is "no risk" to the environment.

The comments came amid increasing signs of unease among MPs about the innovative method of extracting gas for energy from shale deposits deep beneath the ground.

The Prime Minister's spokesman gave Cameron's backing to comments by Energy Minister Michael Fallon, who suggested large areas of the affluent south east could be sitting on valuable shale reserves.

In reported comments from a private meeting, Fallon appeared to relish the idea of fracking taking place beneath the homes of "chattering class" commentators in The Weald.

Fallon has been a public advocate of shale gas, but the Mail on Sunday reported that he said "the beauty" of drilling in Hampshire, Sussex and Surrey was that "of course it's underneath the commentariat: all these people writing leaders saying, 'Why don't they get on with shale?'

“We are going to see how thick their rectory walls are, whether they like the flaring at the end of the drive."

The spokesman said the comments were "light hearted" but added the Prime Minister had "no reason to think that Michael Fallon is incorrect in that assumption" about the possible extent of shale gas exploration.

He said: "Shale gas represents an exciting new potential resource for Britain which could contribute to our energy security, our growth and jobs. But obviously it is important that where shale gas exploration takes place it poses no risk to the environment."

Test drilling began last week at a site in Balcombe, West Sussex, in the face of on-going protests by local people and environmental activists, who are concerned about potential harm to the water table, as well as the possibility of minor earthquakes.

Energy company Cuadrilla insists that its current operations will not involve fracking in the area, but the firm did confirm to E&T magazine that fracking is a future possibility at the site.

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 they 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."

Conservative former minister Nick Herbert has warned that fracking is causing a "fear of the unknown" among Britain's rural population.

Another Tory MP, Eric Ollerenshaw, warned of the danger that the development of shale gas facilities could create a new "North-South divide".

And the Liberal Democrat party president Tim Farron warned that a "short-sighted" rush to exploit deposits could cause long-lasting damage to the countryside.

"I am afraid the government has seen flashing pound signs and has not considered the long-term threats fracking poses to the countryside," said Farron. "I think this is a very short-sighted policy and we will all be left to live with the consequences."

Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, Herbert did not position himself in opposition to fracking, but made clear that his constituents in the West Sussex seat of Arundel and South Downs have deep concerns about the procedure, which involves fracturing rock deposits deep below the ground with high-pressure blasts of water and chemicals.

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