I very much welcome the comments made by the chair of the Environment Agency. I believe he is correct in assessing that, subject to rigorous regulation and monitoring, hydraulic fracturing can safely be used in the UK for shale gas exploration. I also agree on the need to proceed with caution. Fracking should be carried out only under close regulatory control, to ensure that risks are minimised and the environment is fully protected.
It is a relief to know that mentioning the abbreviation “fracking” is within the House rules. Many of us believe that fracking has real potential for energy security, and although we should proceed with it carefully, it could be of huge benefit to this country. Please, do ignore some of the siren voices in the environmental lobby and get on with doing it in a cautious but determined way.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct, because we cannot ignore what is happening elsewhere around the world. The gas price in the United States is now one quarter of that in Europe and one seventh of that in Asia, so this is a game-changing technology. However, our commitment is absolutely clear: for this to go ahead, we have to have the tightest regulatory controls and the greatest focus on environmental protection. This is a densely populated island, we have to have public support for this technology going forward and we intend to go about this in a very constructive way, involving all the expert opinion we can.
Is there not another side to all this? Does not the process use a vast amount of water and involve chemicals as well? It runs counter to all this green deal talk that we hear so often. Will the Minister ensure that all those reservations are taken fully into account?
Let me give the hon. Gentleman an absolute assurance that all those issues will be completely taken into account. The fluid used is 99% water and there are already very strict controls on how it is used and on what happens after it has been through the process. There are very strong regulations, too, on how the fracking activity is separated from the water table and they are often several thousand feet apart. All those issues will be considered with the greatest care before we go forward. We believe that this technology has real potential, but it must be used in the safest possible way.