POLITICIANS and businesses have thrown their support behind fracking, insisting the controversial form of gas extraction is vital for the UK’s growth and poses no threat to local communities.
Hundreds of protesters yesterday brought the Sussex village of Balcombe to a standstill with a rally against shale gas exploration, and further action is planned for today.
But last night Conservative MP Mark Reckless called on the authorities to do more to help Cuadrilla – the exploration firm that has stopped drilling at the site for safety reasons – to push ahead with its work and ensure other companies are not scared off fracking in the south east.
“It is incumbent on the government to protect people who abide by regulation rather than give in to mob rule,” Reckless told City A.M. “Many are inveterate protesters who are anti-capitalist and anti-growth.”
The Institute of Directors (IoD) echoed his comments, blaming a “handful of ill-informed activists who appear to be gearing up for criminal activity” for the disruption. “Developing shale gas and oil is vital to the nation’s economic recovery and future energy needs,” said a spokesman.
Writing in today’s City A.M., IoD adviser Corin Taylor says people in the South East need to realise that fracking “won’t be nearly as disruptive as is often thought” and will “provide plenty of well-paid job opportunities” across the region.
Although Balcombe has become a focal point for the anti-fracking movement, Cuadrilla is drilling a conventional oil well there and has not decided whether to apply for a fracking permit at the site.
One Balcombe resident, who wished to remain anonymous, yesterday said the usually quiet village was divided over the controversial extraction technique but most locals were exasperated with the disruption caused by the protesters. “It’s all kicking off here,” the person complained.
In a rare show of cross-party agreement, Labour said it supports fracking in principle, but fears the government is overstating the potential benefits and says opponents have legitimate environmental concerns.
Last week energy minister Michael Fallon told City A.M. that no part of the country should be off-limits when it comes to drilling for shale gas. But he has previously been reported as joking that supporters of fracking will have to decide “whether they like the flaring at the end of the drive”.
Prime Minister David Cameron has said fracking can help drive down domestic energy bills, while Cuadrilla chairman Lord Browne, the former BP chief executive, yesterday said fracking can help secure the UK’s energy supplies.
“It’s a national purpose, it’s right for our energy security, and, if done safely, we should pursue it,” Browne told the Sunday Telegraph.
Sussex Police says the cost of patrolling the Balcombe protests has already passed £750,000.