Nick Clegg gives fracking cautious support

Anti-fracking protesters in Balcombe Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Fears about fracking have already led to continued protests in Balcombe in west Sussex

Anti-fracking protesters remain camped in Balcombe - near the site where energy company Cuadrilla is carrying out exploratory drilling work in search of oil.

It's a contentious issue and the protests have led to dozens being arrested, including Green Party MP Caroline Lucas.

Liberal Democrats' Energy Secretary Ed Davey has warned of the dangers of a dash for gas, but his party leader has now spoken out in support of the controversial process.

Nick Clegg said: "I think fracking is an issue of huge controversy in some communities; we've seen that in the South East and elsewhere where exploratory drilling has been taking place."

But he said he believes the government cannot afford to ignore the technology out of hand, as it could make a contribution to the UK energy mix and keep people's bills stable and low.

His coalition partners, the Conservative Party, have always been more supportive of plans to frack, which they say could help secure future energy supplies and bring bills down.

In fact many senior Tories believe fracking would already be under way if the man in charge of energy policy wasn't a Lib Dem.

Nick Clegg denies that and says the coalition is on the same page, with both partners believing that fracking can play a role in the future of energy supply but that it is not the solution.

However, Energy Minister and Tory MP for Bexhill and Battle, Greg Barker, is much more supportive.

He is travelling to Colorado next week to see how fracking operates in the US and how local residents deal with it.

With Liberal Democrats about to meet for their annual conference in Glasgow, the issue of green growth and green jobs will be on the agenda.

And the Lib Dems look set to give fracking their, albeit muted, support.

The problem for them is how that will play out with their grass roots - many of whom find the idea of fracking for gas completely unacceptable and believe it could damage the countryside for decades.

It could also do irreparable damage to some of their core support.

The Green Party started its conference in Brighton on Friday, the Conservatives hold theirs in Manchester, Brighton will host the Labour Party conference whilst the Liberal Democrats head to Glasgow for theirs and UKIP will gather in Westminster.