August 12, 2013 5:59 pm

MP warns David Cameron over Tory grassroots anger at fracking

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Fracking could overtake wind farms as a source of public anger in the Conservatives’ rural heartlands, a senior Tory MP has warned David Cameron.

The advice comes as the prime minister takes an increasingly aggressive stance in favour of exploiting Britain’s shale gas reserves, despite concern over the environmental impact of fracking.

Mr Cameron stepped up his support on Monday, arguing that the “huge benefits” of shale gas outweighed any “very minor change”.

But Mark Pritchard, MP for a rural area of Shropshire, said the government needed to tread carefully.

“New energy is needed,” he said. “But ministers need to avoid fracking replacing wind farms as the new energy issue that antagonises Tory grassroots.”

The comments echo those of Laura Sandys, MP for Thanet, who said planning disputes over shale gas drilling would “make onshore wind farms look like a walk in the park”.

Most of Britain’s known shale gas reserves are either in the northwest or in a largely Tory stretch of the southeast.

Lord Howell, father-in-law to chancellor George Osborne, prompted controversy recently when he said fracking should be concentrated in “desolate” parts of the north.

However, many Tory MPs backed Mr Cameron’s fresh push behind shale gas.

Richard Harrington, MP for Watford, said Britain had a one-off opportunity to “get on with it or we will fall behind the rest of the world”.

Dominic Raab, MP for Esher and Walton, said communities needed “a stake in the process” but added: “Unlike wind farms, extracting shale would help stop the lights going out without soaring energy bills.”

Nadhim Zahawi, MP for Stratford on Avon, said the latest estimates for shale gas in the Bowland Basin in the northwest were “pretty extraordinary”.

He urged the government “to be generous to the local communities and make sure that a lot of the new-found wealth is spent locally”.

That was echoed by Eric Ollerenshaw, MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood. He said: “We are not frightened of this kind of thing, we have coal mines, we have had nuclear power but there are still environmental issues to get right and also they have to get the pay off right.”

Under the coalition’s plans, companies would have to pay £100,000 to communities near wells plus 1 per cent of revenue if gas is extracted.

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