CASH-STRAPPED councils across Somerset could be in line for a major windfall if they back a controversial method of extracting shale gas from the ground.

Prime Minister David Cameron announced on Monday that councils would receive all the business rates collected from shale gas schemes, rather than the usual 50%.

The technique, known as fracking, involves a mixture of water, sand and chemicals which are pumped into a well under high pressure to force the gas from rock.

Taunton Deane MP Jeremy Browne said he supports fracking, adding: “Britain needs reliable new sources of energy to literally keep the lights on.

“It is not credible to be against nuclear power, coal fired power stations and fracking.

“I support renewable energy production but it is relatively expensive and it cannot meet Britain's energy needs on its own.

“There has been understandable public anxiety about high utility bills and we needs to think about how we can ensure reliable and affordable energy supplies.

“Just as coal mining had a vital role to play in the past, fracking is a new technology with considerable potential benefits and we should not close our minds to its potential.”

Mr Cameron says going 'all-out' for shale is part of a long term economic plan to secure Britain's future and will bring more jobs and opportunities for people along with economic security.

Energy Minister Michael Fallon said councils could benefit by up to “£10million per well” if shale gas was successfully extracted in their communities, through the 1% levy on revenues, and on top of business rates from companies involved in drilling.

But Burnham MP Tessa Munt said the announcement showed an air of desperation, adding: “They are looking to find a way to get fracking started but if you are going to give pay back it needs to be at parish level - not to county or district councils - as they are the ones that will have the impact.

“We need to take a huge precautionary approach to this and not jump in first until we have done all our homework on fracking.”

Areas to attract fracking include the Mendip Hills and the Government says projects will support 74,000 jobs and reduce bills but anti-fracking group Frack Free Somerset oppose Mr Cameron's announcement, describing the idea as a 'cynical move' and 'bribery' by the Government.

A spokesman from the group said: “This indicates just how desperate ministers are to push through this deeply controversial technology.”