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Fracking Will Cut Energy Bills, Says Poverty Chief

Tim Webb, The Times

Protesters against fracking risk worsening the plight of the five million households struggling to pay their energy bills, Britain’s official fuel poverty adviser has warned. Ministers have a “duty” to promote the extraction of shale gas because it has the potential to drive down the cost of energy, according to the chairman of the Fuel Poverty Advisory Group.

Derek Lickorish says that “the voice of the fuel poor has been lost in the current frenzy” at Balcombe, West Sussex, where the energy company Cuadrilla Resources has been targeted by anti-fracking protesters.

The company wants to resume drilling an oil exploration well in the next few days now that many of the activists who flocked to the picturesque village have gone home. MPs said yesterday that the drilling should continue “as soon as it is safe to do so”.

Steve Baker, the Tory MP for Wycombe and a member of the all-party group for unconventional oil and gas, said: “No one wants dangerous things to be done and no one wants to damage the environment, but safe, proper exploration should be allowed. We cannot allow shale gas to be ignored.”

Mr Lickorish said that consumers had been excluded from the debate on shale gas, which has been dominated by politicians, environmentalists and the industry.

“The voice of the fuel poor has been lost in the current frenzy taking place at Balcombe. Extracting natural gas from shale has the potential to reduce the cost of gas for heating and generating electricity. It’s part of the Government’s duty to explore this.” About one in five households — five million in total — are estimated to be in fuel poverty because they spend more than 10 per cent of their income on energy.

Mr Lickorish’s intervention will put pressure on the Government to spell out how exploiting shale gas deposits in Britain could benefit consumers by bringing down the cost of living.

He cited a report commissioned by the Department of Energy and Climate Change which concluded that wholesale gas prices could fall by more than a fifth if shale gas production takes off in the UK and elsewhere in Europe.

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