A government minister with responsibility for fracking suggested in a private meeting that the innovative gas drilling process could cause houses' walls to shake, it has been reported.
According to the Mail on Sunday, energy minister Michael Fallon joked that drilling in comfortable counties to the south of London would disrupt the lives of media commentators who have been agitating for fracking in other parts of the country.
Mr Fallon's comments came as exploratory drilling began at a site in Balcombe, West Sussex, despite anti-fracking protests by local people and activists from across the UK.
The technique, which involves fracturing rocks deep underground with water and chemicals to extract gas, has dramatically cut energy bills in the US and Mr Fallon has previously indicated he hopes that it could do the same in Britain. Opponents of the method have highlighted concerns about potential water contamination and environmental damage, as well as small-scale earthquakes.
Mr Fallon is reported to have told a private meeting that while much discussion of potential sites for fracking has focused on the North West, there were also deposits which might produce gas in The Weald in the South of England.
He said: "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. It's right there.
"The beauty of that - please don't write this down - is that of course it's underneath the commentariat. All these people writing leaders saying, `Why don't they get on with shale?' We are going to see how thick their rectory walls are, whether they like the flaring at the end of the drive!"
A DECC spokesman did not dispute the paper's account of the comments but said: "Fracking will only be allowed in the Weald if it is safe and poses no risk to the environment."
Energy company Cuadrilla announced that it began operations at Balcombe on Friday. Activists from across the UK have descended on the outskirts of the tiny village, which has become a national focal point for the campaign against hydraulic fracturing.
Protests have caused delays to Cuadrilla's plans to drill a 3,000ft vertical well in a project lasting up to three months and have led to confrontations with police and several arrests. Although the energy firm has said it has no plans to use the controversial method of fracking, villagers fear it will at some point in the future.