A CONSERVATIVE peer sparked disbelief today when he repeated his call for fracking in the “desolate North-East” – and not in “Tory areas”.

Lord Howell again urged the Government to reduce time and costs by drilling for shale gas where “the Industrial Revolution has left the worst historical scars”.

Last year, the former energy minister – George Osborne’s father-in-law – was fiercely criticised for calling for fracking to start in the “uninhabited” North-East.

Amid the storm of protest, Lord Howell travelled to the North-East to apologise – and insisted he had meant the North-West all along.

But he has now made the same suggestion, in an article for the Journal of Energy Security, which urges ministers not to start fracking “in the wrong places”.

Lord Howell wrote: “Trying to start in Southern England, and in the Home Counties, or in rural and countryside areas anywhere, north or south, is a guarantee of longer delays, higher costs and increased hostility.

“Every time ministers open their mouths to claim that fracking must start everywhere around Britain, and not just in carefully selected and remote (derelict) areas, they lose thousands of Tory votes.

“In the North-East, the North-West and all the places where the Industrial revolution has left the worst historical scars they do have just such areas.

“They have the gas and they have the local wish to see fracking investment - to upgrade old coal mining areas, for example.”

The comments came under immediate fire from Labour MPs, including Sedgefield’s Phil Wilson, who said: “Will this man never learn?

“It adds insult to injury to keep making these unworthy comments about the North-East. It must be in the Tory party’s DNA – because he keeps making them.”

Tom Blenkinsop, the Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP, said: “Once is a mistake, twice is a deliberate attack.

“The only thing desolate is obviously Lord Howell's memory, particularly as he was former energy minister during the Thatcher era that did so much to undermine the UK’s self sufficiency in energy.”

The peer can also be criticised for lacking knowledge about the location of shale gas. Little has been found under the North-East – but lots under North Yorkshire.

Last week, a Lords select committee demanded a “streamlining” of regulation to speed up drilling, with one suggesting North Yorkshire should lead the way.

Communities have been offered “compensation” of £100,000 per exploration well and one per cent of the profits - worth several million pounds, say ministers.

In the article, Lord Howell appeared to dismiss suggestions that the public could be easily won over to fracking near their homes.

He wrote: “Even after installation, the thump of compressors can be sensed up to two miles away, as well as the whiff of diesel from the compressor pump engines.”