On the eve of Lancashire County Council’s pivotal meeting – which is due to rule on the two fracking bids for Fylde – businesses spoke out over the controversial issue.
Members of the industry-backed North West Energy Task Force spoke out in support of shale gas exploration at a meeting in Preston, yesterday.
It came at the same time as opponents of fracking said more than 240 businesses and community groups have called on the county’s Development Control Committee to say no because of the damage the industry could do to their businesses.
The letter, organised by the Frack Free Lancashire alliance, highlights the effects of fracking on the environment and the ‘myths’ that shale gas will reduce energy prices and create many jobs.
Nevertheless on the eve of the County Hall meeting Claire Smith, of hoteliers group Stay Blackpool, said that with all the deprivation and unemployment issues in Blackpool, responsible fracking could offer a much-needed boost for the local economy and create jobs directly and indirectly.
She said: “Over the years we have lost a lot of neighbouring industry, our visitor numbers have fallen, regeneration funding came along to help but then there was the recession and the Government cut its spending.
“We have lost 14,500 jobs locally, unemployment is at around 17 per cent and we have 42 per cent child poverty in some areas.
“Shale gas offers us an opportunity to change things.”
Mrs Smith said fracking should be done responsibly and in conjunction with renewable energy but said green energy such as wind farms also has its problems and opponents.
Blackpool businessman Steve Pye said he had researched fracking, interviewed stakeholders and believed the process could be done safely and without causing pollution issues.
He said: “I have worked in the past for BAE Systems and for the nuclear industry, both of which have their opponents both of which have been regarded as much maligned technology, but both of which have a strong presence in our area for many years without any issues close to residential areas.
“We are talking here about two licences simply to explore for shale gas.
“Great Britain is seen as a world leader in many fields and with the years of health and safety and environmental regulation we have developed over the years in this country I can’t believe a shale gas industry would be allowed to operate if it were not safe and responsible.
“I’m sure the noise and traffic issues can be mitigated against to allow this industry to develop and boost our local economy.”
Two local men who have secured jobs in onshore oil and gas spoke about their hopes the industry would take off in the county.
In a bid to highlight potential job opportunities locally, Neil Harrison, from Thornton, and Arthur Parson, from Goosnargh, (above) were invited to speak at the meeting of the North West Energy Task Force.
The duo work for drilling company PR Marriott and have on been part of some of Cuadrilla Resources’ projects.
Both were taken on three years ago with no experience in the oil and gas industry to work on the rigs. They have since worked their way up into more senior positions.
Neil said: “I had just come out of the Army and had no experience, but this was my chance to get into the industry. If it takes off on the Fylde I genuinely do think there will be opportunities for local people and apprentices.
“Even a 19-year-old just starting out can earn more than the national average wage of around £25,000 and then you train on the job and pick up new skills and work your way up. Career progression is good.”
Arthur added: “I’m hoping it (fracking) takes off in Lancashire because it would be good to see young people in this area, which has suffered in the recession, being given that chance to get into this industry.
“It can be really hard to get into oil and gas but there are lads who trained with us who are now working off-shore. There are opportunities all over the world.
“I understand people are worried (about fracking) but it can be done safely.”
He added: “When were are working in a local area we are using the local shops and the hotels so it does bring benefits.
“There have been fracking rigs in Dorset for years without any issues.”