Taxpayers could have to pick up hefty bills to clear up pollution potentially left by a controversial energy extraction technique which has been alleged to trigger earthquakes.
The Green Party issued the warning after the Government rejected proposals to force companies to take out risk insurance if they engage in fracking – drilling mineral gas out of rocks deep underground.
It comes as environmental campaigners in the region have stepped up their bid to block future plans which would exploit Devon and Somerset’s rich underground gas reserves.
Professor Molly Scott Cato, the lead Green Party candidate in the South West for next May’s European elections, said it was mystifying that laws which made some operators take out pollution insurance were not applied to all.
“This is a classic case of privatising the profits and socialising the risks,” she said.
“By rejecting calls for fracking companies to take out insurance against environmental disasters, the government has confirmed our suspicions that they are happy to put the public at risk while they dish out massive tax cuts to encourage the industrialisation of our countryside.
“Landfill operators already have to take out this type of insurance in case things go wrong, so why should fracking companies not be subject to this simple safeguard when they risk polluting our air and water supplies?”
Energy companies are keen to drill shale gas in some parts of the South West, encouraged by high gas prices and generous tax breaks from the government.
A licence has recently been issued to InfraStrata to drill an exploration well near Swanage in Dorset.
This week campaigners and a cross-party group of MPs argued that fracking operators should have to take out a bond to pay for potential fracking accidents.
Without this insurance the taxpayer would be at risk of paying out millions of pounds to clean up pollution and toxic waste if a company went bust.
While the government and the shale gas industry claim strict rules are in place and that residents have nothing to be worried about, the Green Party point to a number of incidents in the USA where fracking has resulted in pollution to water, air and land.
They also claim there are cleaner and greener ways to ensure energy security and reduce the costs of energy.
Prof Scott-Cato said the money encouraging shale gas drilling would be better spent elsewhere.
“Instead of tax breaks to encourage a dash for dirty gas, we should be helping local people to insulate their homes and supporting communities to generate their own clean renewable energy.
“This will protect our environment, save the average person hundreds of pounds on their energy bills and create thousands of skilled green jobs,” she said.