OPPONENTS of fracking, earmarked for Hampshire, need to “understand better” the huge benefits, a Government minister has said.

Andrea Leadsom, who is the minster for energy and climate change, vowed to use “an element of persuasion” to convince local people to accept drilling for shale gas, after a pioneering application was thrown out in Lancashire.

But, intervening in a Commons debate, Southampton Test MP Alan Whitehead warned that thousands of fracking wells were heading to the South, including Hampshire.

The Labour backbencher said up to 18,000 wells would be needed to replace ten per cent of conventional gas and cut the need for supplies from Qatar or Russia.

And he said: “Wells would be concentrated in the two areas of the UK where there are reasonable shale plays.

“Those shale plays are geologically faulted and difficult to get at – Bowland shale in the North-East of England and across the Weald in the South.”

Mr Whitehead added: “The proposition in front of us is not for occasional bits of exploration; it is “Go for it. Let’s have a substantial fracking industry’.

“The process of trucks, waste water and re-fracking would have to be repeated every few years on that well pad, in order to keep it going.”

The comments came ahead of likely new guidelines that will, controversially, allow shale gas to be extracted from under National Parks, including the New Forest.

Ministers have suggested they will allow horizontal drilling under protected beauty spots from wells put up just outside them – potentially for up to three kilometres.

At least eight licences for possible fracking have already been issued to gas companies in South Hampshire, including around Southampton and Winchester.

Responding to the debate, Ms Leadsom argued there were “enormous potential benefits” from shale gas for energy security, jobs, growth and community investment.

Fracking could make Britain less reliant on imports from abroad, whilst providing more jobs and creating a new domestic industry.

Ms Leadsom added: I would never call those with local, very well founded concerns nimbys or luddites.“They are not nimbys or luddites, but local communities who need to understand better. My priority will be to reassure them and, yes, to use an element of persuasion.”

Ministers hope the first wells will be dug this year, confident that opposition to fracking will fall away when they were up and running.

But there is fierce criticism about the carrying of contaminated water underground and self-monitoring by fracking companies of any earthquakes triggered.