Towns and villages could be paid to accept gas “fracking” in their areas, after Britain lifted a ban on the controversial type of drilling.
Ed Davey, the Energy Secretary, said shale gas exploration could resume in the UK with new controls, more than a year after it was suspended for causing tremors in Lancashire.
The decision paves the way for the UK to exploit some of its trillions of cubic feet of shale gas covering up to 60 per cent of the countryside.
Senior Conservatives yesterday claimed allowing companies to explore for shale gas could help keep down household bills and make Britain’s energy supply more self-sufficient.
After the announcement, John Hayes, an energy minister, said exploiting shale gas might help “get the price of energy down”, like it has done in the US.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman also said there is “great potential for prices to come down” because of shale drilling
“That is something that is attractive about finding another source of energy,” she said.
However, environmental groups and rural communities yesterday raised concerns it could scar or pollute the landscape.
Companies are already considering drilling for shale in West Sussex, south Wales, the Mendip Hills in Somerset, Kent and Lancashire using the new technique in which liquids are pumped underground at high pressure to split rock and extract gas
Paul Miner, senior planning officer at the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), said ministers need to get the support of local communities if fracking is to go ahead.
“The Government doesn’t appear to have recognised the potential for major landscape damage, or the need to properly consider this at the local level,” he said.
MPs yesterday called for local communities to be compensated for accepting shale drilling in their areas.
Andrew Selous, a Conservative MP for South West Bedfordshire, urged the Energy Secretary to ensure “generous community benefits” for areas affected.
These are voluntary contributions by developers to a local area where their business has a long-term impact on local resources and the environment.
Mr Davey told MPs it is “very important to make sure there are community benefits”, as well as enviromental protection.
Ministers are already hoping to encourage communities to accept wind farms by getting developers to offer benefits such as new playgrounds, better village halls or church repairs.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Davey said communities near possible shale sites should be reassured that shale gas extraction will safe, despite fears in the US that it may have polluted drinking water in some areas.