David Cameron shale gas
David Cameron said a UK shale gas revolution would bring down consumers' energy bills (Reuters)

Prime Minister David Cameron has thrown his support behind the UK's burgeoning shale gas industry by claiming that it will reduce Britons' energy bills, despite experts repeatedly warning that it may not lead to lower costs for consumers.

A British Geological Survey confirmed the UK's enormous shale gas potential after its study discovered 1.3 trillion cubic feet of the unconventional gas reserves under Yorkshire and Lancashire alone.

Exploration work has already started in some parts of the country, as firms take the next step of working out how much shale gas can be extracted at commercial levels, but this has been met with protests and opposition, such as at Cuadrilla's Balcombe site in Sussex where initial drilling has started.

"If we don't back this technology, we will miss a massive opportunity to help families with their bills and make our country more competitive," said Cameron, writing in the Daily Telegraph.

"Without it, we could lose ground in the tough global race."

He added that "fracking has real potential to drive energy bills down".

Contradiction on Consumer Energy Bill Impact

However, Angela Knight, chief executive of Energy UK, which represents the consumer-facing side of the industry, told IBTimes UK in an interview that unlocking the UK's vast shale gas reserves is about security of supply rather than making bills cheaper.

"That is what everybody wants. They want a downward pressure on gas prices," said Knight.

"We're very much part of a world market. Whereas of course in some respects what has happened in the US is because they are not in the same sort of position to export and import and connect up across the continent in the way we are. It's very localised.

"They have, therefore, used the gas they found form shale locally. That has had a massively downward pressure ultimately on the cost of generation and the price of electricity.

"We are connected to the rest of the world and we are importers, so if we are import displacing we will still be at a world price, but we will be more energy secure."

One of Cuadrilla's PR men, Mark Linder, admitted to residents nearby the Balcombe site that extraction of shale gas in the UK would have an "insignificant" effect on energy bills.

Community Support Package

Cameron said he also backs the shale gas industry because it will create thousands of jobs, boost the country's economy through production and tax receipts, and bring benefits to local communities where fracking for the resource is taking place.

The government has already given a series of tax breaks for the industry to encourage exploration work, as well as a support package for local communities that would entitle them to a lump sum payout of £100,000 as well as 1% of all revenues derived from the shale gas extracted near them.

However, environmental campaigners have a number of concerns about the shale gas industry.

Firstly they say the government should intensify its focus on renewable sources of energy rather than building up a new fossil fuel sector in shale gas.

They also say there are risks of chemical leaks during the fracking process used to fracture shale rocks through hydraulics, with the released gas tapped off as it rises to the surface.

The shale gas industry argues that it is a cleaner resource than burning coal as a means of creating electricity supply and that sourcing it domestically rather than importing it from halfway across the world will result in fewer emissions.

Firms also say that the fracking process is heavily regulated and risks of things going wrong are minimal.