COMMUNITIES affected by controversial “fracking” will be offered an average of £800,000 in additional compensation in an effort to stave off opposition in Conservative heartlands, according to reports.
Prime Minister David Cameron, an avid supporter of hydraulic fracturing for shale gas, will make the announcement as a survey was published showing the extent of shale gas reserves in the south of England.
The Government will hope the extra money quells criticism of plans to reform trespass laws to allow the fracking industry to grow to give Britain an alternative source of energy.
The compensation will be offered alongside one-off £100,000 payments in areas with fracking sites and a one per cent share of profits made.
The announcement will come as the British Geological Survey (BGS) publishes a long-awaited study into the extent of shale gas reserves in the south of England. According to reports it is expected to show reserves in Kent, Sussex, Surrey and Hampshire, all areas where the Conservatives enjoy support.
The move will prove embarrassing in some sections of the Conservative Party after Mr Cameron’s Tory colleague Lord Howell, Chancellor George Osborne’s father-in-law, caused controversy by calling for fracking to be carried out in the “desolate North”.
Ministers firmly back the exploitation of shale gas reserves in rocks beneath the UK, claiming it could bring down energy bills and create thousands of jobs. Environmental activists are bitterly opposed to the technique, which opponents say can increase climate change, cause small earthquakes and pollute water supplies.
The Prime Minister has insisted fracking will be “good for our country” and has blamed a “lack of understanding” of the process for some of the opposition.
The BGS has already found large reserves of shale gas in the North but has now completed a months-long survey of the extent of it in the South.
Andrew Austin, of IGas Energy, said his company already exploited oil and gas reserves in the south of England.
But Friends of the Earth’s South East regional campaigner Brenda Pollack questioned the timing of the announcement, coming after the local and European elections.
She said: “These latest estimates will set alarm bells ringing across the south east of England where fracking firms seem intent on punching holes in some of Britain’s most beautiful countryside in the search for profits.
“No wonder the Government waited until after the elections to make this announcement as Lord Howell recently warned that fracking will cost the Tories thousands of votes in their heartlands.
“Shale oil and gas are not the solution to the UK’s energy challenges. Rather than drilling for more dirty fossil fuels that will add to climate change, the Government should be backing renewable power and energy efficiency.”
Gary Smith, national officer of the GMB union, said “Fracking needs to be subject to an honest, rational debate that focuses on a plan for energy, including gas in the UK.
“The case for fracking is yet to be proven, on environmental or economic grounds.
“If shale gas is viable and there are sufficient supplies to keep households warm, the gas needs to be seen as a national strategic asset. It shouldn’t simply be allowed to be traded abroad as a commodity.”