‘Country must explore potential of shale gas’

IT IS vital the country seizes the opportunity to “at least explore” the UK’s shale gas potential whilst maintaining the very highest safety and environmental standards, energy and climate change minister Andrea Leadsom has said.

Kevin Hollinrake

Ms Leadsom told MPs during a Westminster Hall debate on the issue that there were “enormous potential benefits” of a successful shale gas industry for energy security, jobs, growth and community investment.

Developing shale gas, she argued could make Britain less reliant on imports from abroad, whilst providing more employment and creating a whole new British industry.

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But she sought to reassure those concerned by underlining that safety was the “most important and overriding concern” of shale gas exploration and her key focus was to “make sure we get it right”.

She said: “I would never call those with local, very well founded concerns nimbys or luddites,” adding: “My priority will be to give them reassurance and yes an element of persuasion.”

Her comments came as the rejection of fracking schemes in Lancashire were seen as a significant blow to the Government’s bid to go “all out” for shale.

Environmental campaigners and local opponents of two schemes to drill and frack for shale gas between Blackpool and Preston were cheered last week when Lancashire county councillors turned down one scheme at Roseacre Wood over traffic concerns.

A decision yesterday saw councillors rejecting the advice of their own planning officials, who had recommended a scheme at Preston New Road go ahead, prompting one green group to call it a “Waterloo” defeat for the shale industry.

During the debate, several MPs across the political divide raised questions about the development of shale gas.

Tory Kevin Hollinrake who brought the debate spoke of the need to make sure people did not feel the Government agenda was being directed by big business.

He said greater energy independence and security at a time of significant international uncertainty was a compelling proposition.

The MP for Thirsk and Malton said: “The economy is very important, but there’s no amount of economic benefit, vested interest or party political pressure that could ever lead me to support something that I believe would have a detrimental impact on our countryside or the health of local residents.”

An application to drill for shale gas in a village in his constituency he said had recently been submitted, with no residents in favour.

He said: “These people are not professional campaigners, they are decent local people desperately worried that fracking will change their lives forever and not for better. Their concerns mainly centre on safety, the potential for contamination of water supplies and air pollution.”

The spoiling of the countryside by drilling rigs, noise and light pollution and lorries movements were also major concerns, as well as who paid up or cleaned up if things went wrong, he added.

He said: “We must make sure that people don’t feel that the Government agenda is being directed by big business. Many members of the general public do not trust business and also feel perhaps unfairly that too often politicians will support business at their expense.”

He added: “I propose clear planning guidance that there must be buffer zones, with a minimum distance between sites of, say, six miles.

“We do not want the images of a fracked industrial landscape from North Dakota to become a reality here.”