Former energy minister Lord Howell, who is George Osborne’s father-in-law, sparked controversy with comments he made during a Lords debate.
He said: “In beautiful rural areas there are worries not just about drilling and fracking, which I think are exaggerated, but about trucks, deliveries, roads and disturbance, which are quite justified.
“However, there are large, uninhabited and desolate areas, certainly in parts of the north-east, where there is plenty of room for fracking.”
The remarks were met with shocked gasps in the House of Lords.
Comments were ‘foolish and ill-informed’
Critics have warned that these comments could set the Conservative party back in its efforts to reach out to the north-east, which is traditionally a Labour-supporting region.
James Wharton, one of the few Conservative MPs in the region, branded the remarks “foolish and ill-informed.”
After a row ignited following his comments, Lord Howell issued an apology.
“I apologise for any offence caused. I certainly did not intend to suggest that the north-east is desolate… there are parts of the country that are less densely inhabited than others. That includes parts of the north-east, but also other areas in the south,” he said.
The Lord, who lives in the south of England, added that the shale gas industry should be encouraged to develop in a sustainable manner, where it is appropriate to do so, and in a way that ensures communities benefit. This could be in many different parts of the country, he noted.
Furthermore, distinctions should be made between the different areas suitable for fracking, he maintained, rather than deciding to “lump them all together”.
He continued to call for fracking in the north-east, however, explaining that the process will create large numbers of highly-skilled and well-paid jobs.
Environmental concerns and fracking
Speaking to BBC South East, anti-fracking campaigner Bianca Jagger disputed the benefits of fracking.
“The promises for jobs, for lowering the price of fossil fuel – all of that has not been proven,” she said.
Ms Jagger highlighted environmental concerns surrounding fracking, including that it could damage water sources and industrialise beautiful areas of countryside.
It was recently revealed that Britain is sitting on huge reserves of shale gas, which could prove to be a cheap source of energy and a solution to the UK’s energy crisis.
During the process of fracking, high pressure is used to crack rocks and release gas. The US has embraced the process, and subsequently seen a significant drop in oil reliance and a fall in barrel price.