More needs to be done to promote the benefits of fracking but it should only be carried out if there is "no risk" to the environment, a spokesman for David Cameron indicated.
The Prime Minister believes that shale gas offers "exciting" potential for energy security, jobs and growth and the Government needs to do more to promote the benefits, he said. The comments came amid increasing signs of unease among MPs about the innovative method of extracting gas for energy from shale deposits deep beneath the ground.
The Prime Minister's spokesman gave Mr Cameron's backing to comments by Energy Minister Michael Fallon, who suggested large areas of the affluent south east could be sitting on valuable shale reserves.
In reported comments from a private meeting, Mr Fallon appeared to relish the idea of fracking taking place beneath the homes of "chattering class" commentators in The Weald.
Mr Fallon has been a public advocate of shale gas, but the Mail on Sunday reported that he said "the beauty" of drilling in Hampshire, Sussex and Surrey was 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!"
The Prime Minister's spokesman said the comments were "light hearted" but added Mr Cameron had "no reason to think that Michael Fallon is incorrect in that assumption" about the possible extent of shale gas exploration.
He said: "Shale gas represents an exciting new potential resource for Britain which could contribute to our energy security, our growth and jobs. But obviously it is important that where shale gas exploration takes place it poses no risk to the environment."
The spokesman stressed the importance of local involvement in the planning process and highlighted the obligations placed on firms carrying out fracking to offer £100,000 of benefits to communities for each well fracked during the exploration phase.
"The Prime Minister's view is that shale gas exploration does represent an exciting new potential resource for Britain and it's important for Government to communicate that to people so people can see what the benefits of shale gas exploration could be," he said. "He feels that we need to continue to communicate that message to people."
Conservative former minister Nick Herbert has warned that fracking is causing a "fear of the unknown" among Britain's rural population. Another Tory MP, Eric Ollerenshaw, warned of the danger that the development of shale gas facilities could create a new "North-South divide".