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Fracking Debate Triggers Political Tremors

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BBC News

Energy minister Michael Fallon has defended comments about fracking, in which he suggested drilling could disrupt the home lives of media commentators in southern England.

Mr Fallon told a private meeting it would test “how thick their rectory walls are” and “whether they like the flaring at the end of the drive”.

The remarks came amid protests against potential fracking in West Sussex.

The Tory minister told the BBC his words were “light hearted”.

Reported in the Mail on Sunday, they thought to be aimed at a journalist who has backed fracking.

Mr Fallon said fracking would only be allowed if “absolutely safe”.

According to the Mail on Sunday, Mr Fallon, the MP for Sevenoaks in Kent, made the remarks after explaining that exploratory studies for fracking could spread across southern England following tests off the Lancashire coast.

He is quoted as saying: “The second area being studied is the Weald. It’s from Dorset all the way along through Hampshire, Sussex, East Sussex, West Sussex, all the way perhaps a bit into Surrey and even into my county of Kent.”

The newly promoted minister said “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.”

Environmental fears

BBC political correspondent Robin Brant said it is thought the reference to the commentariat was aimed primarily at the Spectator magazine journalist and former Daily Telegraph editor Charles Moore, who lives in a rectory in East Sussex and has written about his support for fracking.

In an exchange with the BBC Mr Fallon confirmed he had made the remarks but said the newspaper report had “completely misconstrued a light hearted remark”.

He said “no fracking will be allowed in the Weald unless it is absolutely safe and the environment is fully protected”.

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