Fracking for shale gas in the UK will not have "any effect" on gas prices, Ed Davey, the energy secretary has said, contradicting the Prime Minister's promise that it will lead to lower energy bills.
"North Sea gas didn’t significantly move UK prices – so we can’t expect UK shale production alone to have any effect," Mr Davey said, pointing out that Britain is just one part of the wider European gas market.
He said it was "far from clear that UK shale gas production could ever replicate the price effects seen in the US", where the shale gas boom has seen prices plummet.
The comments stand in stark contrast to those of David Cameron, who wrote in the Telegraph last month that "fracking has real potential to drive energy bills down"
"Just look at the United States: they’ve got more than 10,000 fracking wells opening up each year and their gas prices are three-and-a-half times lower than here. Even if we only see a fraction of the impact shale gas has had in America, we can expect to see lower energy prices in this country."
But Mr Davey said that only in the event of "huge Europe-wide shale gas production" might there be "downward pressures on gas prices strong enough to offset fast rising demand".
This scenario is seen as unlikely given several countries such as France have banned fracking, while drilling in Poland has found far less gas than had been hoped for.
Mr Cameron's comments were also shot down by David Kennedy, head of the Committee on Climate Change - the government's official adviser - who said that "fundamental economics" showed bills were unlikely to fall.
"People are very worried about the energy bills and it's tempting to look across to America and say, 'look what shale gas has done there, it's caused gas prices to plummet, we would love that to happen here', and then to say 'well it will happen here'," he said.
"It is highly unlikely to happen here. There isn't enough shale gas in the UK and in Europe to change the European market price."
It was likely to remain expensive liquefied natural gas imports that determined the market gas price, he said. "The economic argument is that you would expect prices not to go down because of shale gas.
"Let's not confuse this by saying it is going solve the affordability problem - it probably isn't.
"We would expect to see a price that is largely unchanged because of shale gas in the future - unless there is a lot more shale gas in this country and in Europe ... and it becomes the dominant form of supply. I don't think anyone is thinking that."
Lord Stern had also called Mr Cameron's claims of lower bills "baseless".