Fracking ‘is in the national interest’

Hydraulic fracturing for shale oil and gas is “in the national purpose” and right for Britain’s energy security, the chairman of Cuadrilla said.

A protester dressed as a clown outside the Cuidrilla site in Balcombe, England. Picture: Getty Images
A protester dressed as a clown outside the Cuidrilla site in Balcombe, England. Picture: Getty Images

Lord Browne, the former chief executive of BP, said the controversial extraction method should be pursued, if it can be done safely.

He stressed that as much domestic resource should be explored as possible, saying it was more environmentally friendly than importing gas.

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“This is about getting domestic resources,” he said. “Domestic gas is more green than imported gas, and we need to explore as much domestic resource as we can.

“We need to be patient and very clear. It’s a national purpose, it’s right for our energy security, and, if done safely, we should pursue it.”

Communities near fracking sites will be offered financial benefits, including a 1 per cent share of the revenues if the fracking succeeds, he added.

Lord Browne’s comments come amid continuing protests near Balcombe, West Sussex, where Cuadrilla has halted exploratory drilling for oil. After taking advice from Sussex Police, Cuadrilla temporarily suspended its drilling operation as up to 1,000 activists descended on Balcombe for the six-day Reclaim the Power protest, which began on Friday.

Fashion designer Vivienne Westwood joined the activists outside the drill site on the camp’s first day, saying fracking would store up trouble environmentally and financially.

More than 45 arrests have so far been made since the protests first sprang up in the West Sussex countryside three weeks ago.

Of those, 33 have been charged with a range of offences, including Natalie Hynde, 30, the daughter of rock singer Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders.

Police officers from ten other forces have been drafted in as a large daily security operation has been thrown up to keep the peace.

On Friday, Sussex Police disclosed that the policing bill so far had almost reached £750,000, and that Home Office help was being sought to help with the cost.

Although Cuadrilla is not conducting fracking near Balcombe, and would need to apply for permission, activists fear the energy firm will go on to do so.

Dart Energy, the only company in Scotland with permission to exploit resources using fracking, recently applied to rescind its licence after fears from campaigners that it planned to use the technique at a site in the Central Belt where it is exploring coalbed methane, another controversial energy source.

Fracking involves high pressure liquid being pumped deep underground to split shale rock and release oil or gas supplies.

Opponents of fracking have highlighted concerns about potential water contamination and environmental damage, as well as small-scale earthquakes.

David Cameron has insisted the whole country should accept fracking, claiming it will attract “real public support” when the benefits are explained, such as potentially cutting energy bills.

The Prime Minister said the process would not damage the countryside and cause only “very minor change to the landscape”. The Scottish Government has said there are “no plans or projects” currently proposing the use of fracking in Scotland.

The debate over the benefits for and against fracking comes as activists continue to pour into the Reclaim the Power camp, adjacent to Cuadrilla’s exploratory oil drilling site in Balcombe.