POLITICS

David Cameron's £1m Fracking Claim Was A Slip Of The Tongue, Says Downing Street

08/08/2013 15:59 BST | Updated 08/08/2013 16:16 BST
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Anti-fracking protesters at Balcombe, East Sussex, as fracking firm Cuadrilla tries to move equipment on site for exploratory drilling for oil.

David Cameron's claim that parts of the country that allowed fracking would immediately see £1m ploughed into the local economy was a slip of the tongue, Downing Street has said.

The prime minister said on Thursday that Britain would be "making a big mistake" if it did not seriously consider fracking and the prospect of cheaper gas prices.

Cameron said the country is "missing out big time at the moment" as he compared the number of shale gas wells dug in the European Union compared with the United States.

He said: "What we are looking at is trying to have a very simple system where every time a well is dug, immediately £1m goes to the local community and not just to the local council but actually to local people so people can see a cash benefit in their local village, in their local town and even, potentially in their local pocket as well.

"And then if that well is successful even more money should be ploughed back into the local community."

However the amount the shale gas industry has actually proposed to offer to local communities for each well site where drilling takes place is £100,000.

Cameron cautioned that safety needs to be assured and that "very clear" environmental procedures would have to be met before companies are given the go-ahead to start fracking.

The economy needs rebalancing but a key part of that is the need to have affordable energy, he added.

"I think we would be making a big mistake as a nation if we did not think hard about how to encourage fracking and cheaper prices right here in the UK," he said.

"If you look what's happening in America with the advent of shale gas and fracking, their energy costs in business and their gas prices are half the level of ours. We are seeing businesses that have previously gone off to Mexico and elsewhere come back to the United States.

"Nothing is going to happen in this country unless its environmentally safe. There is no question of having earthquakes and fire coming out of taps and all the rest of it. There will be very clear environmental procedures and certificates you will have to get before you can frack."

He said communities in the United States had felt the financial benefits of shale gas drilling "very quickly" and that British communities could see similar advantages.

"I think if people can see a direct benefit from fracking and from shale gas, they will be more willing to really look at the arguments about what this will mean for 'my community' if it goes ahead," he said.

"I think in that way we can see wells dug and we can see the benefits of shale gas here in the UK."

He continued: "In the whole of the European Union (EU) last year 100 shale gas wells were dug. At the same time in the US there were 10,000.

"The EU has about three-quarters as much shale gas as the US so we are missing out big time at the moment and I want to make sure that Britain does not miss out."

He said he wants Britain to be a success globally and not miss out on cheaper energy but acknowledged that risk factors should not be overlooked.

David Cameron Visit To Wigan

Cameron was speaking at one of his regular PM Direct meetings with the public where he answered a question on what he thought of the merits of fracking and its risks.

Opponents of fracking fear the process of fracturing the shale rock with high pressure liquids made up of water and chemicals to release gas or oil could affect water supplies and cause minor earthquakes.

Concerns have also been raised about the impacts of noise and traffic associated with development, damage to the countryside and house prices, and that exploiting shale gas in the UK could hit efforts to cut carbon emissions.

Recent test drilling in Balcombe, West Sussex, was met with protests by local people and environmentalists.

The UK's first fracking took place in West Lancashire but was suspended after two minor tremors in the Blackpool area.

Anti-fracking campaigners were among about 100 anti-Government protesters who gathered outside a youth club in Wigan which the Prime Minister opened.

Frack Free Fylde campaigner Gayzer Frackman - who changed his name from Gayzer Tarjanyhi by deed poll last year - said: "Cameron and (Chancellor George) Osborne don't know what they are talking about. They have got the ear of the oil and gas companies. Their information (on safety) is wrong.

"The only people who want this is the Government and the oil and gas companies and their shareholders."

Another protester, John Catterall, of Say No To Fracking In Barton Moss, said his local community in Salford would fight plans to potentially drill on land near Barton Aerodrome.

"We have got no evidence it is safe," he said. "All the evidence so far has been in America and in Australia where it has taken place and it has been nothing short of a disaster.

"The lies that the PR machine turns out is just unbelievable. They talk about jobs in Salford in the oil and gas industry but the unemployed here don't have the skills for that."

He said he did not want £100,000 for his community only to find that their water supply had been contaminated, he added.

Cameron avoided the protesters as he was driven to the rear of the premises.