Shale gas exploration will bring cheaper bills and not “earthquakes and fire coming out of taps” in Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron has promised.

The country would be making “a big mistake” if it turned its back on hydraulic fracturing at a time when the industry is transforming the industrial landscape in the US.

The fracking debate has intensified in the UK in the past few weeks after embattled explorer Cuadrilla Resources finally spudded an exploration oil well near Balcombe, West Sussex. Protesters had delayed drilling on PEDL 244 where Cuadrilla may, in the event of a hydrocarbons find and other techniques not working, frack.

“I think we would be making a big mistake as a nation if we did not think hard about how to encourage fracking and cheaper prices right here in the UK,” Cameron said on a factory visit in Lancashire. Cuadrilla also has shale gas exploration plays in the English county where it was recently joined by Centrica as a farm-in partner.

“If you look at what’s happening in America with the advent of shale gas and fracking, their energy costs in business and their gas prices are half the level of ours,” Cameron said, according to a report in the Guardian newspaper.

Shale gas production has in particular driven down the cost of energy for industrial users in the US. However, the industry, although comparatively mature in North America, has also come under sustained attack from some environmental groups and communities.

“Nothing is going to happen in this country unless it’s environmentally safe. There is no question of having earthquakes and fire coming out of taps and all the rest of it. There will be very clear environmental procedures and certificates you will have to get before you can frack,” Cameron promised.

A recent official report in the UK suggest the north of England could have twice as much shale gas as previously thought. However, the industry in the UK is at a very nascent stage, as it is in Europe and everywhere outside of North America.

“In the whole of the EU year 100 shale gas wells were (drilled),” Cameron said. “At the same time in the US there were 10,000.”

“The EU has about three-quarters as much shale gas as the US, so we are missing out big time at the moment and I want to make sure that Britain does not miss out.”