David Cameron backs fracking with financial incentives

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David Cameron firmly nailed his colours to the fracking mast yesterday as he came out in full throated support for shale gas exploration and urged opponents to "get on board". In an announcement that translates as the UK government throwing its full support behind the controversial energy source, he offered significant financial incentives to local authorities to encourage them to allow shale gas extraction.

On a visit to a Lincolnshire fracking site in an obligatory hard hat, he claimed that expanding the shale industry would create 74,000 jobs and encourage billions of pounds in investment as well as significantly lowering energy bills. Energy prices have indeed dropped in the United States where a new ‘gold rush’ on fracking is in full swing, but in such a small, densely populated country as Britain, the environmental consequences are potentially far more serious.

A Greenpeace spokesman immediately registered opposition, saying “This is a naked attempt by the government to bribe hard-pressed councils into accepting fracking in their area.”

Friends of the Earth's Jane Thomas echoed the bribery point, saying the announcement "highlights the depth of local opposition to fracking and the desperate lengths ministers are prepared to go to try and overcome it".

David Cameron's announcement that councils and local authorities would be receiving business rate income in their entirety rather than the standard 50 % came as French company Total confirmed plans to invest about £30m to help drill two exploratory wells in Lincolnshire.

The north of England is believed to hold 1,300 trillion cubic feet of shale gas. And yet the hydraulic fracturing process used to extract it is highly controversial. It involves injecting water sand and chemicals at very high pressures into the bedrock – cracking it apart to release gas. Environmentalists fear that destabilising underlying rock on this scale could lead to earth tremors and the contamination of groundwater supplies.

Energy minister Michael Fallon said councils could benefit by up to "£10m per wellhead" if shale gas was successfully extracted in their communities. It does seem a very paltry sum when put against the profits involved and the potential risks to the community.

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