A government minister with responsibility for fracking suggested in a private meeting that the innovative gas drilling process could cause houses’ walls to shake, it was reported yesterday.
Energy Minister Michael Fallon was quoted as joking that drilling in 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.
Exploratory drilling began at the weekend at a site in Balcombe, West Sussex, despite anti-fracking protests by local people and activists from across the country.
The technique, which involves fracturing rocks deep underground with water and chemicals to extract gas, has dramatically cut energy bills in the USA, and Mr Fallon has previously indicated he hopes 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.
Mr Fallon was reported by a Sunday newspaper 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 DECC spokesman did not dispute the paper’s 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.”
Craig Bennett, director of Friends of the Earth’s policy and campaigns, said: Mr Fallon’s reported comments “will fuel opposition to the Government’s disastrous support for fracking” adding that there was “plenty of evidence” that on shale gas and oil extraction will not lead to cheaper fuel bills.