Fracking row splits apart the Coalition … As Energy Minister says the sound of drills will shake the South

Fracking has driven a rift through the Coalition as the minister in charge of it described Middle England shaking with the sound of drills.

Energy Minister Michael Fallon said at a private meeting that the controversial drive for shale gas could soon extend across a vast swathe of the South.

But in the first major attack on fracking by a senior member of the Coalition, Liberal Democrat president Tim Farron predicted opposition would grow stronger than the campaign against wind farms.

fracking - Lloyds broker says no

fracking – Lloyds broker says no

Frack Off My Future

Frack Off My Future

Drilling began last week in Balcombe, West Sussex, to angry protests from residents which saw 30 local campaigners arrested after clashes with riot police.

In controversial comments to Westminster colleagues, Energy Minister Mr Fallon suggested that this was just the start, pointing out that a vast area of the South – home to many affluent villages – is being investigated by geologists for reserves of underground gas.

He told colleagues: ‘It’s from Dorset all the way along 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.

‘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!’

fracking map for south of England

fracking map for south of England

Like oil wells, fracking wells require burning off leaked gas in ‘flares’ several feet high because it is dangerous to allow it to escape into the atmosphere.

Lib Dem Tim Farron said he was ‘greatly worried’ by the dash for gas. ‘I am afraid the Government has seen flashing pound signs, and has not considered the long-term threats fracking poses to the countryside,’ he said. ‘I think this is a very short-sighted policy, and we will all be left to live with the consequences.’

Mr Farron, whose constituency is in the Lake District, added: ‘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.

‘This technology can lead to earth tremors and I’m particularly worried that buried nuclear waste in my part of the country could be affected.’

Get the Frack Out of Sussex

Get the Frack Out of Sussex

Frack You You Fracking Frackers

Frack You You Fracking Frackers

Mr Farron has already raised concerns with Lib Dem Energy Secretary Ed Davey and said he would do so with Nick Clegg, in a hint that other Lib Dems might capitalise on local discontent.

The UK’s biggest deposits of shale gas are in Lancashire, where the firm Cuadrilla Resources began drilling three years ago.

Mr Fallon, MP for Sevenoaks in Kent who has been refuting claims by protesters that the technique will industrialise the countryside, suggested provocatively that the predictions of a ‘second great belt of shale’ in the Weald Basin would be the acid test for politicians and newspaper commentators who had voiced support for fracking – because it could be carried out in their own backyards.

moronic quote by Energy Minister Michael Fallon

moronic quote by Energy Minister Michael Fallon

Mr Fallon’s home in Sevenoaks is itself only 20 miles from areas which could be rich in shale gas.

Fracking, short for ‘hydraulic fracturing’, involves drilling a hole thousands of feet underground and pumping in water and chemicals at high pressure to crack the rocks and retrieve natural gas trapped inside.

In Balcombe, one of around 50 exploratory wells in Sussex, the drilling of a six-inch diameter hole is to test how much oil is flowing there. No fracking for gas will take place this year. The other wells have been used for conventional oil and gas and not drilled by Cuadrilla.

The Government has put its weight behind a dash for shale gas – with generous tax breaks for fracking firms announced in the last budget.

Frack Fee Zone

Frack Fee Zone

STOP Cuadrilla

STOP Cuadrilla

It was spurred by a report in June from the British Geological Survey showing Bowland Shale in Lancashire could contain 1,300trillion cubic feet of gas – enough to meet Britain’s needs for decades, and put a brake on spiralling fuel bills.

A spokesman for Mr Fallon said last night: ‘It was a light-hearted remark. He was making the point that fracking may equally go ahead in the South as the North.

‘But fracking is surprisingly unobtrusive. People in Balcombe could not hear the drilling and did not know it was under way until it was announced.’

Lush backs protest

Lush backs protest

Published in The Mail.

Unlike the ConDem government and Cuadrilla, for the people of Sussex, quality of life comes before greed, and as Caroline Lucas said at Balcombe yesterday, fracking and shale gas is a quest for fool’s gold. If we want energy security, stable energy bills, we have to exploit our renewable resources.

And if the LibDems think there is votes in it for them, then they too are on a fool’s errand. No one is going to trust that bunch of liars again. The likely recipients of votes is likely to be the Green Party.

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