George Osborne is set to unlock Lancashire’s ‘fracking’ industry in his Autumn Statement despite fears over its safety.
The Chancellor is set to signal tax breaks and regulatory reforms to encourage investment in hydraulic fracturing to take advantage of natural gas locked in shale rock.
Cuadrilla Resources, the company leading the UK push, has been carrying out exploratory work in Lancashire in recent years and is expected to press ahead with plans if it gets the green light from the Government.
Campaign group Friends of the Earth has denounced the policy as a “reckless dash for gas” and the GMB union said it was “madness” to burn more gas to produce electricity when wholesale prices were increasing.
A gas strategy, due to be published alongside the Autumn Statement on Wednesday, said: “The Government expects that gas will continue to play a major role in our electricity mix over the coming decades, alongside low-carbon technologies, as we decarbonise our electricity system.”
Energy Secretary Ed Davey has been pushing for gas to be used as a back-up for renewable energy with stricter carbon targets.
The ‘fracking’ process, which involves millions of gallons of water and a chemical being fired into rock to release gas, was suspended 18 months ago after it triggered two earthquakes on the Fylde coast.
But, it is expected the Government will allow the process to resume.
Tina Rothery, of campaign group Residents Action on Fylde Fracking (RAFF), said: “It is a really tense time for us at the moment, but more than anything, it’s really disappointing.
“We have been striving so hard to get some honest truth that this is a real blow.
“It means that we have to step everything up again. Fighting this is a real challenge and unfortunately now we will have to change tactics.”
Cuadrilla currently has exploratory sites in Singleton, Weeton and Westby on the Fylde Coast and a site at Hesketh Bank, near Preston, as well as a licence for a site near Kirkham.
A number of other studies, including by the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering, have declared the process safe.