A GOVERNMENT Minister with responsibility for fracking suggested in a private meeting that the drilling process could cause houses’ walls to shake.
The claims come amid warnings from Liberal Democrat President Tim Farron that the controversy will cement a powerful opposition formed by an alliance of campaigners from both countryside and green groups.
He warned that the Government has seen the flashing pound signs and not considered the long-term threats fracking (hydraulic fracturing) poses to the countryside.
According to reports in a national newspaper, Energy Minister Michael Fallon has joked that drilling in comfortable counties to the south of London would disrupt the lives of media commentators who have been agitating for fracking in other parts of the country.
Mr Fallon’s comments came as exploratory drilling began at a site in Balcombe, West Sussex, despite anti-fracking protests by local people and activists from across the UK.
The technique, which involves fracturing rocks underground with water and chemicals to extract gas, has cut energy bills in the USA, and Mr Fallon has previously indicated he hopes that it could do the same in Britain.
Opponents of the method have highlighted concerns about potential water contamination and environmental damage, as well as small-scale earthquakes.
There are also concerns that the Government’s planning guidance on gas extraction is biased in favour of allowing fracking applications to go ahead.
The issue has dominated the news since Lord Howell of Guildford said last week that fracking should to take place in the North East of England where there are “large and uninhabited and desolate areas” but not in the South.
Activists from across the country have continued to gathered in Balcombe over the weekend where exploratory drilling is taking place.
Protests have caused delays to Cuadrilla’s plans to drill a 3,000ft vertical well and led to arrests.
Although the energy firm has said it has no plans to use fracking, villagers fear it will at some point in the future.
Mr Fallon is reported to have told a private meeting that while much discussion of potential sites for fracking has focused on the North West, there were also deposits which might produce gas in The Weald in the South of England.
“It’s from Dorset all the way along through Hampshire, Sussex, East Sussex, West Sussex, all the way perhaps a bit into Surrey and even into my county of Kent. It’s right there,” he said.
“The beauty of that – please don’t write this down – is 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.”
A Department for Energy and Climate Change spokesman did not dispute the account of the comments, but said: “Fracking will only be allowed in the Weald if it is safe and poses no risk to the environment.”
According to reports Mr Farron has said he is “greatly worried” by the Government’s “dash for shale gas”.
“I think this is a very short-sighted policy and we will all be left to live with the consequences.
“With a wind farm you can actually choose where you put it; that is not the case fracking. I am very sceptical. The green movement were pro-wind farms, and countryside groups were against.
“With fracking you are already seeing powerful alliances forming between those two groups, so opposition could become very strong.”