Minister's vow on fracking 'myths'
Fracking could take place "right across the South" of England, Energy Minister Michael Fallon said as he vowed to debunk "myths" about the dangers posed by the controversial gas extraction process.
The Government firmly backs action to exploit what are believed to be large reserves of shale gas in rocks beneath the UK, which it claims could help bring down energy bills and create thousands of jobs.
Environmental activists are bitterly opposed to the technique, which opponents say can increase climate change, cause small earthquakes and pollute water supplies.
An independent report commissioned by water firms is expected to conclude that, while there are risks, they "can be dealt with" when it is published within the next couple of weeks.
Former Government adviser Lord Howell of Guildford, the father-in-law of Chancellor George Osborne, suggested that fracking should be confined to "desolate" areas of northern England.
But sites in the "southern basin" most likely to be fruitful targets will be revealed in a British Geological Survey analysis to be published next year.
"It's right across the South we're talking about: Wiltshire, Hampshire, Surrey, Sussex, into Kent," Mr Fallon, the MP for Sevenoaks in Kent, told the Daily Telegraph.
"There is shale in the Midlands too," he added, telling the newspaper he had talked with Texas governor Rick Perry about the potential benefits in terms of business investment and job creation.
Brenda Pollack, South East campaigner for Friends of the Earth said: "Despite all the Government hype, people across the South have made it perfectly clear that they are opposed to fracking.
"Shale gas is not the solution to our energy problems - it's dirty, a threat to local communities and experts warn it won't lead to cheaper fuel bills.
"We need a clean, safe and affordable energy system, based on cutting energy waste and developing Britain's abundant renewable power potential."
A recent report by Public Health England said an initial review suggested the risks to people's health from fracking were low - so long as the process is "properly run and regulated".
Water UK, which represents all major UK water and wastewater service suppliers, said: "There are risks but they are all risks that can be dealt with."
Mr Fallon said: "There are genuine concerns, but there are also myths and we are tackling them."