Thirteen Cabinet ministers face being caught in fracking protests: Drilling licences could be granted in Osborne, Gove and Hague's constituencies10/08/2013 09:34
Thirteen Cabinet ministers could face bitter rows over fracking in their constituencies, it emerged last night.
Companies involved in shale gas drilling have exploration licences in areas represented by Chancellor George Osborne, a vocal supporter of the technology, and Liberal Democrat Energy Secretary Ed Davey.
Education Secretary Michael Gove, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude are among those whose constituencies are in a shale belt that stretches across southern England from Dorset to Kent.
Controversy: Thirteen Cabinet ministers could face bitter rows over fracking in their constituencies, it emerged last night. Police are pictured escorting a lorry past protestors at a proposed Fracking site in Balcombe, West Sussex
While the firms cannot go ahead with fracking before seeking permission from the local council, it raises the prospect of more fierce protests from residents concerned that it carries environmental risks and will destroy the countryside.
There have been angry clashes between campaigners and riot police at Balcombe in West Sussex, where exploratory drilling started last week.
Other members of the Cabinet who have seats in the South, where limestone rocks are believed to contain a plentiful supply of gas trapped thousands of feet underground, are Justice Secretary Chris Grayling, Culture Secretary Maria Miller, Science Minister David Willetts, Chief Whip Sir George Young and Oliver Letwin, a Cabinet Office minister.
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson has joined Mr Osborne in championing shale gas and both have constituencies within the Bowland-Hodder shale area in northern England.
Hot spots: This map shows the constituencies of Cabinet ministers which could face rows over fracking
The constituencies of Foreign Secretary William Hague and Minister without Portfolio Ken Clarke also fall within its boundaries.
According to the British Geological Survey, it could have reserves of up to 1,300 trillion cubic feet of shale gas – enough to power Britain for decades. Mr Osborne has said that it would be ‘a real tragedy’ if Britain did not capitalise on this source of energy.
‘It would mean we would have much higher energy costs than other countries, it would mean jobs would go to other countries and we would lose out,’ he said.
Cuadrilla Resources, which is carrying out the drilling in Balcombe, began fracking in Lancashire three years ago.
Other fracking firms, including Celtique Energie, Alamo, iGas and Magellan Energy, have licences for unconventional oil and gas in other areas of the North.
Potential battle: Companies involved in shale gas drilling have exploration licences in areas represented by Chancellor George Osborne, left, and Education Secretary Michael Gove, right
Greenpeace, which is opposed to fracking, used maps of shale resources produced by the Department for Energy and Climate Change to compile a list of ministers who stand to be affected by the industry.
Its energy campaigner, Lawrence Carter, said: ‘Senior Tories have thus far been the most vocal cheerleaders of fracking. It will be very interesting to see if the ministers who have talked up shale gas will be so happy when it’s in their backyard.
‘They are beginning to recognise that they could pay a price at the polling booth if they lend their support to it.
Tricky: Foreign Secretary William Hague, left, and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, right, could also face battles in their constituencies
‘Balcombe is just the beginning – people won’t take the disruption to their communities and countryside lying down.’
The Daily Mail revealed earlier this year that 35 Tory MPs have constituencies in areas that could be licensed for fracking.
Greenpeace’s research shows several marginal seats in shale-rich areas, including four held by the Tories and two by the Lib Dems.
Deep divisions have emerged within the Coalition over fracking, which involves pumping water and chemicals at high pressure into bore holes to crack open the shale rock and release trapped gas.