Britain would be making a big mistake if it ruled out fracking for natural gas on environmental grounds, David Cameron has said, adding that the UK could be “missing out big time” on cheaper energy bills and new jobs because of worries about the impact on the countryside.
Campaigners have warned that the drilling could pollute drinking water and scar the landscape. Gas companies in the US have had to compensate residents where fracking practices have damaged the environment.
Hundreds of protesters are gathering to disrupt work at a potential fracking site in Sussex this summer.
But addressing staff at Crown Paint, in Darwen, Lancashire, the prime minister suggested that there was no question of there being dire environmental consequences in the UK such as “earthquakes and fire coming out of taps”. The government would make sure the industry was properly regulated and not allow any “unsafe” practices.
He said: “I think we would be making a big mistake as a nation if we did not think hard about how to encourage fracking and cheaper prices right here in the UK.
“If you look at what’s happening in America with the advent of shale gas and fracking, their energy costs in business and their gas prices are half the level of ours.
“Nothing is going to happen in this country unless its environmentally safe. There is no question of having earthquakes and fire coming out of taps and all the rest of it. There will be very clear environmental procedures and certificates you will have to get before you can frack.”
He promised communities could get £1m compensation “immediately” for allowing fracking in their area, before his advisers later clarified that he actually meant £100,000.
Under coalition plans, communities will get the lump sum and then a 1% share of revenue if drilling in a particular area succeeds. This could run into millions of pounds.