GEORGE Osborne has claimed victory in the battle for hearts and minds over fracking as he said Britain is leading Europe in the exploration for shale gas.
The Chancellor said there is now a “broad consensus” among the British public over the need to drill for shale gas in the UK, following months of fierce debate between supporters and those worried about the impact on their local communities and the wider environment.
His comments came as fracking firm Cuadrilla announced plans to explore for shale gas in two new locations in Lancashire. The firm will seek permission to drill, hydraulically fracture and test the flow of gas from up to four wells on each of the sites in Fylde.
Yorkshire is also thought to be sitting on huge reserves of shale gas, with a British Geological Survey report published last year suggesting 1,300 trillion cubic feet of gas could be trapped in shale deep under north and central England.
The fracking process has fiercely divided public opinion, however, with the Yorkshire Post hosting a Big Debate in the newspaper, online, on social media – and at a public meeting next month.
But appearing before a House of Lords committee yesterday, Mr Osborne claimed the British public is now largely supportive.
“Although there has been local controversy around some of this activity, I detect a sort of broad national consensus in favour of it – which is strikingly different to some other European nations,” he said.
“I’m not pretending the (UK) shale gas industry is anything like the size or the maturity of the US shale gas industry.
“But I think we are the leaders in Europe in this space. We have overcome some of the objections that other countries have been unable to overcome.”
Mr Osborne was almost evangelical about the impact he believes fracking could have around the world.
“I am a huge supporter of shale gas,” he said. “I think it’s got the potential to transform the energy debate in the Western world.
“It’s something I’m putting huge effort in to try and push across Whitehall – and I have a strong partner in the Prime Minister.
“I also think it’s a very good answer to those who want to see affordable energy, whilst at the same time the UK making a commitment to the reduction of global carbon emissions.”
The true scale of public support was questioned by Lord Shipley, who highlighted a recent survey suggesting public support has actually fallen from 39 per cent to just 26 per cent in the past six months. But the peer’s suggestion that public opposition may delay future fracking was given short shrift by the Chancellor.
“I don’t think it will cause delays,” Mr Osborne said. “Obviously I would like even greater public support. But at the moment it’s all quite theoretical. I think once people start to see the benefits of this for the UK economy, the jobs that are being created, the lower energy costs, and once communities begin to see the money flowing, I think they will all see the merits of this.”
Mr Osborne admitted, however, that “no one ultimately knows” what the impact of fracking will be on British economy or on energy prices until it becomes clear precisely how much shale gas is actually available.
“I think it will have an impact – and I hope it will have a significant impact,” he added.
The Yorkshire Post’s public debate on fracking will be held on February 12 at the Cedar Court Grand Hotel in York, starting at 6pm. To attend please email Jayne.Lownsbrough@jpress.co.uk with “fracking” as the email header. Include your name and a contact telephone number and a question you would like to ask. Alternatively write to Jayne Lownsbrough, Editor’s Secretary, Fracking debate, Yorkshire Post, No 1 Leeds, 26 Whitehall Road, Leeds, LS12 1BE.