A Government decision to allow resumption of “fracking” for shale gas in the UK – under new controls – has failed to convince Wirral Council leader Phil Davies that the procedure is safe.
Energy Secretary Ed Davey has said that fracking could resume in the UK, subject to new controls which aim to reduce the risk of seismic activity.
Operations were put on hold in Lancashire 18 months ago when the fracking – involving the use of high-pressure liquid to split rock and extract the gas – was identified as the likely cause of two small earthquakes.
Councillor Davies said: ”I still remain to be convinced by the Government’s assurances that this process is entirely safe.
"Let’s not forget fracking was responsible for two small earthquakes in the Blackpool area.”
He continued: “I have instructed the council’s officers to examine the very latest technical evidence and opinions and provide me with a full report.
“My priority will always be the safety of Wirral residents.”
Last year Wirral Council passed a resolution opposing any application for fracking operations to be carried out in Wirral until councillors were completely satisfied about the safety of the process and the risk of any adverse environmental impact.
Energy exploration company IGas has licences covering an area between Manchester and the Mersey/Dee estuaries to extract gas from onshore underground coal seams, including locations in Liverpool and Wirral.
The company estimates that 1.95 trillion cubic feet of shale gas could be trapped beneath Wirral alone.
Mr Davey insisted that exploiting shale gas in this country would not undermine efforts to cut emissions to tackle climate change.
And he said that, as gas would be needed in coming decades for heating, cooking and electricity, there were advantages in developing domestic supplies.
The Treasury has already signalled its support for the budding industry, proposing tax relief for shale gas, and unveiling a gas generation strategy which potentially paves the way for a new "dash for gas".
But environmentalists warn that a continued reliance on gas would prevent the UK meeting targets to cut emissions and tackle climate change, and that shale has no place in the move to a low-carbon economy.
Concerns have also been raised, following widespread exploitation of shale resources in the US, that it can cause local environmental problems including polluting water supplies and damaging development.
Mr Davey said: "Shale gas represents a promising new potential energy resource for the UK.
"It could contribute significantly to our energy security, reducing our reliance on imported gas, as we move to a low-carbon economy.
"It is essential that its development should not come at the expense of local communities or the environment. Fracking must be safe and the public must be confident that it is safe."
Greenpeace energy campaigner Leila Deen said: "George Osborne's dream of building Dallas in Lancashire is dangerous fantasy.
"He is not JR Ewing and this is not the US. Energy analysts agree the UK cannot replicate the American experience of fracking, and that shale gas will do little or nothing to lower bills."