Fracking should get public support, says David Cameron
The whole of the country must "get behind fracking", which ought to get "real public support" once its benefits are explained, David Cameron has said.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, he said he wanted all of the UK to benefit from shale gas drilling - "north or south".
The prime minister moved to allay concerns about the technique, insisting it was safe if properly regulated.
Environmentalists fear it can cause small earth tremors, water contamination and environmental damage.
Fracking - short for "hydraulic fracturing" - involves drilling deep underground and releasing a high-pressure mix of water, sand and chemicals to crack rocks and release gas stored inside.Continue reading the main story
Supporters say it is safe and argue it is essential to make the UK more energy self-sufficient.
The PM said it could create thousands of jobs as well as reduced energy bills.
Last month, Tory peer Lord Howell of Guildford said fracking should be confined to "desolate" areas of northern England, for which he later apologised. He went on to acknowledge there were parts of both northern and southern England "less densely inhabited than others".
The village of Balcombe, in West Sussex, has been a flashpoint in the debate, as protests spanning several days have been held against exploratory drilling in the area.
Mr Cameron wrote: "It's been suggested in recent weeks that we want fracking to be confined to certain parts of Britain. This is wrong.
"I want all parts of our nation to share in the benefits - north or south, Conservative or Labour. We are all in this together.
"If neighbourhoods can really see the benefits - and get proper reassurance about the environment - then I don't see why fracking shouldn't get real public support."
He said fracking had "real potential to drive energy bills down".
"It's simple - gas and electric bills can go down when our home grown energy supply goes up," he added.
Energy costs in the US have plummeted as a result of fracking.
Mr Cameron said the UK could not afford to miss out on a technology that would bring down bills, create up to 70,000 jobs and provide financial sweeteners to communities with drill rigs on their doorsteps.
Critics say scepticism is needed. The government's own energy department DECC says it's not clear whether fracking will bring down bills or not.
Some academics believe the jobs figures will be much lower.
And common sense suggests fracking is more likely in areas of the northern England where the population is lower than in the densely-populated Home Counties.
But campaigners disputed the prime minister's claims - calling on him to "come clean" about the role of lobbyists in advising the government.
"Experts from Ofgem to Deutsche Bank to drilling company Cuadrilla agree UK shale will not bring down bills because, unlike the US, the UK is part of a huge European gas market," said Greenpeace energy campaigner Leila Deen.
"We've seen that foisting fracking on communities - south or north - doesn't work, and his comments are likely to further stir rebellion in the Home Counties, not quell it."
Mr Cameron said a study of 11 counties alone had found about 1,300 trillion cubic feet of shale gas "lying underneath Britain at the moment".
"To put that in context, even if we just extract a tenth of that figure, that's still the equivalent of 51 years' gas supply," he said.
And he insisted fracking could create more than 70,000 jobs.
"Just as with North Sea oil and gas, there could be a whole supply chain of new businesses, more investment and fresh expertise," he added.'Real money'
The prime minster said energy firms had agreed to pay £100,000 "to every community situated near an exploratory well" and that, if shale gas was extracted, 1% of the revenue, "perhaps as much as £10m will go straight back to residents who live nearby".
"This is real money that could be used for a variety of purposes - from money off the council tax bill to investment in local schools," he said.
"It's important that local people share in the wealth generated by fracking."
Mr Cameron said the government "must make the case that fracking is safe".
"International evidence shows there is no reason why the process should cause contamination of water supplies or other environmental damage, if properly regulated," he added.
He pledged that "local people will not be cut out and ignored" and added: "We want people to get behind fracking, and a transparent planning process is an important ingredient."
And he insisted the countryside's "landscapes and scenery" would not damaged by drilling, adding: "The huge benefits of shale gas outweigh any very minor change to the landscape."
Last week, the prime minister told factory workers in Darwen, Lancashire, it would be a "big mistake" to miss out on the benefits of fracking, adding the country was "missing out big time at the moment".