David Cameron was today attacked over his call to make the Fylde coast Europe’s shale gas capital.
The Prime Minister used his keynote speech at yesterday’s Tory party conference in Manchester to outline his bold vision as he declared: “Let’s make Blackpool the centre of Europe for the shale gas industry.”
But while some MPs in the area have welcomed the remark, it has been viewed with alarm by campaigners because of concerns over the regulation of the process.
Fracking refers to the process of injecting water at high pressure into the ground to crack shale rock and release the trapped gas inside.
The Fylde coast is being looked at as a major drilling location after research claimed there was potentially trillions of cubic feet of gas in Lancashire.
But controversy over the practice here began in 2011 when a tremor of magnitude 2.3 hit the Fylde coast on April 1, followed by a second of magnitude 1.4 on May 27. They were later linked to Cuadrilla Resources Ltd’s drilling at Preesall by the British Geological Survey.
Residents’ Action on Fylde Fracking spokeswoman Tina Rothery said the Prime Minister’s remarks are of “deep concern”.
She said: “The fact he singled out Blackpool to be ‘the centre of shale gas production in Europe’ certainly localises and focuses the deep concern.
“Regulation of the banking and health sector certainly offers no reason for confidence in the ability of regulatory bodies to keep us from harm.”
John Hobson, of Defend Lytham, said: “The idea Blackpool could become some sort of new Aberdeen is as fantastical and baseless as Mr Cameron’s recent claims that shale gas will reduce our domestic energy prices.
“The reality is any economic stimulus from the shale gas industry for Blackpool and the Fylde would be short term.”
Gayzer Frackman, from Frack Free Fylde, has criticised Mr Cameron for making the remarks before a regulatory framework for shale gas exploration is in place.
He said: “If he is going to force this on Blackpool will he be having fracking in his constituency, or George Osborne’s or Nick Clegg’s?
“He is pushing shale gas without there being any regulations in place.
“We’ve already had two earthquakes caused by fracking and no explanation of how it happened. I can only assume David Cameron is not in possession of the full facts.”
Philip Mitchell, from the Blackpool and Fylde Green Party, said: “A large-scale fracking industry could harm Blackpool’s famous tourism industry and the rural Fylde economy, and it’s a risk we don’t need to take.”
Labour MP for Blackpool South, Gordon Marsden, believes Mr Cameron’s comments are a “desperate” attempt to backtrack from comments made by Tory peer Lord Howell in a debate on fracking in the House of Lords, in which he described the North West as “desolate”.
Mr Marsden said: “People in Blackpool would want cast-iron assurance as to safety and local benefits.”
However, three of the Fylde’s Tory MPs say they agree with the Prime Minister’s comments – but only if strict regulation is put in place first.
Fylde MP Mark Menzies said: “If extraction is to go ahead then it would be only right that the framework of the industry be based locally.
“However, this must be done under robust rules to ensure the industry is meeting a gold standard of regulation.”
Paul Maynard, MP for Blackpool North and Cleveleys, said: “I share the Prime Minister’s aspiration providing it is safe.”
And Lancaster and Fleetwood MP Eric Ollerenshaw said: “My view is there’s still a long way to go before we know if it’s possible. There is a potential in terms of future jobs and research work.”
At present, fracking cannot go ahead on the Fylde coast.
Cuadrilla Resources, which has exploratory shale gas drilling sites in Weeton, Westby and Singleton, is currently carrying out environmental impact studies ahead of any potential planning applications to Lancashire County Council.
It also stated it will put in for planning permission to drill an exploration well near Clifton Business Park which will not involve fracking.
A Cuadrilla spokesman said: “Shale gas represents a great potential opportunity and benefits for Blackpool and Lancashire.
“Cuadrilla is working closely with local communities and regulators to assess the full potential of Lancashire’s Bowland shale in a safe and responsible way.”
Local communities have been promised £100,000 per shale site if fracking takes place. A one per cent share of the revenues if the drilling succeeds and the company begins producing gas have also been pledged.
But campaigners say regulation over such issues as water pollution and environmental impact are neither independent or go far enough to protect communities.
THE EDITOR’S COMMENT - Is arrogance behind our Frackpool rebranding?
So Blackpool is set to become the European capital of the shale gas industry is it?
Funny, I don’t ever remember the Prime Minister asking us residents before he decided to erect a new sign post at the end of the M55.
It appears David Cameron has got so far ahead of himself in his love affair with fracking that he is now declaring open season on rural Fylde’s rich shale gas potential.
“With its resources under the ground, let us make Blackpool the centre of Europe for the shale gas industry,” he told yesterday’s Tory Party conference.
Excuse me Prime Minister, who exactly are the “us” you talk of when rebranding the Fylde as New Aberdeen.
Maybe he was playing to the Manchester conference crowd, given the less than flattering remarks by one Tory peer who recently described life up here as the “desolate north”.
Or perhaps he genuinely believes the residents of South Fylde are as excited by shale gas as he is.
Sadly, as usual, when the highly contentious issue of shale gas and fracking is condensed into a soundbite nobody mentions the key issues residents here are asking, and none more so than that of regulation.
Over recent months we have heard all the rhetoric of “gold standard” regulation, but nobody in government is actually coming forward to explain exactly what that is.
There is little doubt some see shale gas as a key part of this country’s future energy make-up.
There are plenty who say it is safe, others armed with studies from around the world who vehemently argue against it.
The truth is that the jury on the reported risks versus the potential cash benefits is still well and truly out.
But what David Cameron has done in his speech yesterday is do nothing but raise the fears of those who feel they have not been given enough information or answers on either the scale of the industrialisation or how it will be policed, if indeed it is even given the go ahead.
At present shale gas firm Cuadrilla does not have permission to frack at any of its Fylde coast sites.
That has to be approved by Lancashire County Council.
It appears – given yesterday’s rebranding of Blackpool as the “European centre of shale” – this crucial local approval is seen as nothing more than a box ticking exercise by those in Westminster – even before we get to read a single Environmental Impact Assessment.
Given local councils are increasingly losing the power to decline rural housing developments, what chance of turning down a gas boom?
Wherever you stand on the issue, the people of the Fylde coast deserve better than such arrogance – we certainly deserve better than being used as a cheap conference one liner which could have major and lasting implications.