David Cameron has urged communities to ‘seize’ the chance to welcome shale gas drilling near their homes – saying the gas sites are only the size of a cricket pitch.
The Prime Minister said allowing the controversial practice of extracting gas will drive down prices for consumers, as well as creating more than 70,000 jobs.
And he slapped down the remarks of Lord Howell, who caused controversy last month by suggesting shale gas drilling should be confined to ‘desolate’ parts of the north and not ‘beautiful’ areas in the south.
‘This is wrong. I want all parts of our nation to share in the benefits: north or south, Conservative or Labour.’
Speaking in a newspaper interview, Mr Cameron said he wanted to challenge ‘myths’ surrounding shale gas exploration, saying there is no evidence it is unsafe or damages the countryside.
He spoke out after weeks of protests against a proposed fracking site near Balcome in West Sussex. Environmentalists claim the process could contaminate water supplies and even trigger earthquakes.
Forty wells are expected to be drilled before the 2015 general election, half in the North West. There could also be widespread drilling across the South. Dorset, Hampshire, Surrey, Sussex and Kent are also thought to contain gas reserves.
Mr Cameron said fracking should be embraced because it would follow in Britain’s proud tradition of having the world’s first industrial revolution.
‘My message to the country is clear – we cannot afford to miss out on fracking,’ he said. ‘For centuries, Britain has led the way in technological endeavour: an industrial revolution ahead of its time, many of the most vital scientific discoveries known to mankind, and a spirit of enterprise and innovation that has served us well down the decades.
‘Fracking is part of this tradition – so let’s seize it.’
He told the Daily Telegraph: ‘If we don’t back this technology we will miss a massive opportunity to help families with their bills and make our country more competitive.’
Energy bills would fall if we can lower our dependence on imported gas, he added.
‘Latest estimates suggest there’s about 1,300 trillion cubic feet of shale gas lying under Britain at the moment – and that study only covers 11 counties.
‘To put that in context, even if we just extract a tenth of that figure, that’s still the equivalent of 51 years’ gas supply.’
Mr Cameron also quoted one study which predicted 74,000 jobs could be created in drilling and other businesses which would supply the new industry.
He said fracking would bring money to local neighbourhoods, because 1 per cent of the revenue will go straight back to residents who live nearby.
And he vowed to make the case that ‘fracking is safe’ – saying there is no evidence that it could contaminate water supplies or trigger earthquakes. He added: ‘One myth still remains – that fracking damages our countryside. I just don’t agree with this.
‘I am proud to represent a rural constituency. I would never sanction something that would ruin our landscapes and scenery.
‘Shale gas pads are relatively small – about the size of a cricket pitch. But more than that, similar types of drilling have been taking place for decades in this country.
‘The South Downs National Park is one of the most beautiful parts of Britain and it has been home to conventional oil and gas drilling since the 1980s. The huge benefits of shale gas outweigh any very minor change to the landscape.’