Michael Fallon, the U.K. junior energy minister with responsibility for fracking, said southern England contains deposits that might produce natural gas, the Mail on Sunday reported.
“It’s from Dorset all the way along through Hampshire, Sussex, East Sussex, West Sussex, all the way perhaps a bit into Surrey and even into my county of Kent,” Fallon said at a private meeting last week, according to the newspaper. The counties referred to by the minister are mostly on England’s southern and southeastern coast.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, blasts a mixture of water, sand and chemicals underground to release oil and gas trapped in rock formations. In the U.K., fracking is associated with northwest England, where Cuadrilla Resources Ltd. has exploration licenses. Cuadrilla said Aug. 2 test drilling started at Balcombe in West Sussex after protests caused delays.
According to the Mail on Sunday, Fallon joked that drilling in well-off counties south of London would disrupt the lives of media commentators who have called for fracking to take place in other parts of the country.
“This was a light-hearted remark that has been misconstrued,” he said in an e-mailed statement today. “Fracking will only be allowed in the Weald if it is safe and poses no risk to the environment,” he said, referring to an area in southern England extending into several of the counties mentioned at the private meeting.
Separately, the Sunday Telegraph newspaper reported that Tim Farron, president of the Liberal Democrat party, is “greatly worried” by the U.K.’s “dash for shale gas,” saying rural areas may be damaged for decades. Energy Secretary Ed Davey, also a Liberal Democrat, in December ended a ban on using fracking to explore for gas.
The Liberal Democrats are partners with Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives in the U.K. coalition government.
Writing in the Mail on Sunday, Francis Egan, Cuadrilla’s chief executive officer, said he received bomb threats over his company’s activities. Egan also wrote that no fracking would take place for at least nine months after any oil is found while the company seeks government consent. Cuadrilla’s chairman is John Browne, former CEO of BP Plc.