Government will push ahead with fracking, says Jacob Rees-Mogg despite earthquake fears

·6 min read
Fracking - REUTERS/Hannah McKay
Fracking - REUTERS/Hannah McKay

Jacob Rees-Mogg has said the Government will push ahead to allow fracking in the UK, despite concern about earthquakes and backlash from countryside groups.

The Business Secretary said the current limit on seismic activity from fracking - at 0.5 on the Richter scale - was “too low” and “will be reviewed to see a proportionate level”.

A report on the potential dangers of fracking from the British Geological Survey, commissioned by ministers in April, is expected to be published on Thursday.

The Government hopes the report will say that the dangers of shale gas extraction have been overstated, since it was banned in 2019.

Liz Truss has promised to lift a three-year ban on fracking for shale gas as part of her plans to boost the UK’s domestic energy supply.

But in a comment piece for the Telegraph (below), the CPRE countryside pressure group said any return to fracking will cause “fury off the Richter scale” and prompt widespread rural protests.

There are licences for fracking in 148 areas of the UK, including dozens of Conservative constituencies, many of them marginal seats.

“More seismic than the fracturing of the countryside and the damage to rural homes will be the monumental backlash. The fury of local communities will be off the Richter scale,” said Tom Fyans, interim CEO of the CPRE.

Ed Miliband, the shadow climate change secretary, said fracking was a “dangerous fantasy” and was “unsafe”.

Speaking to BBC Newsnight last night, Mr Rees-Mogg said: “The seismic limits will be reviewed to see a proportionate level.

“At 0.5 on the Richter scale, which is only noticeable with sophisticated machinery, it's quite right - the fracking would not take place.

“That level is too low. But I can't confirm the new level because that's being looked at."

Ministers believe lifting the fracking ban will improve the UK’s energy security in light of the increased price of gas and war in Ukraine.

CPRE has written to MPs in marginal seats in fracking areas, warning them that the process will fail to produce enough gas to reduce energy prices, but could take up swathes of the countryside, lower local house prices and pollute waterways and wildlife.

Rural communities are “on the front line” of opposition to fracking and “ready for the fight”, Mr Fyans said.

Fracking is a process of injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals at high pressure into cracks between rocks in order to release the trapped gas.

The CPRE has also written to Mr Rees-Mogg.

Fracking was banned by the Conservative government in 2019, after a 2.9 magnitude tremor at the Preston New Road site in Lancashire, owned by Cuadrilla, and a subsequent investigation which found that it was not possible to accurately predict the probability or magnitude of earthquakes.

There had been widespread protests against the industry in the years leading up to the ban.

Earlier this year Kwasi Kwarteng, now Chancellor, vowed not to lift the ban unless new evidence suggested it was safe and would cause minimal disruption.

The Government has said that fracking will only go ahead where it has local support but has not outlined how this will be determined.

“If the government thinks fracking has public support, it needs to test that by ensuring applications for drilling licenses go through the normal local planning processes – where they will almost certainly be rejected,” Mr Fyans said. “Any attempt to circumvent this is an affront to local democracy.”

A Government spokesman said: “Making the most of our own gas resources makes us less dependent on imports and helps maintain the security of the UK’s energy supply in both the short and long-term. Drawing on lessons from around the world, we will make sure it is done as safely as possible and where there is local support.”

Ministers, be warned… an earthquake is coming

By Tom Fyans, interim CEO of CPRE, the countryside charity

An earthquake is coming. Quite literally, if the Truss government goes ahead and lifts the ban on fracking. Back in 2019, tremors of 2.9 on the Richter scale rattled the homes of people living near Cuadrilla’s controversial Lancashire site. It appeared to be the death knell for fracking, with a moratorium swiftly introduced to appease public anger.

Cut to 2022 and fracking is back, in the name of the energy crisis. Illogically so, when gas is nine times more expensive than renewables. Which is to mention nothing of the environmental impact.

The new Chancellor got it right in March when he said fracking “would take up to a decade to extract sufficient volumes - and it would come at a high cost for communities and our precious countryside”.

Nothing has changed.

The leaked British Geological Survey report makes clear there has been no progress on predicting or lessening earthquakes associated with fracking. Homes and lives would still be damaged. Our countryside would still be industrialised. Air and water would still be at risk of pollution.

Determined to force fracking onto unwilling communities, the Government is moving the goalposts. From a ban unless it could be proven safe, we’re now being told “as safely as possible” will suffice.

The fossil fuel conglomerates rubbing their hands in glee at the thought of sky-high profits might at least have paid lip service to local residents. But instead, they’re calling for communities to be stripped of their right to object. The gas companies know local democracy will get in their way. They know that if people have a say, they will be unequivocal. Years of polling show opposition to fracking hovering around the 75 per cent mark, in direct contrast to the same proportion who approve of renewable energy.

A devil’s playground of gas wells

We need to be clear about what’s at stake here. Not just the environment, but the democratic right of the public to object to its destruction. If the government thinks fracking has public support, it needs to test that by ensuring applications for drilling licenses go through the normal local planning processes – where they will almost certainly be rejected. Any attempt to circumvent this is an affront to local democracy.

More seismic than the fracturing of the countryside and the damage to rural homes will be the monumental backlash. The fury of local communities will be off the Richter scale.

Breaking a manifesto commitment is one thing. Breaking the countryside is another.

Within days of fracking rearing its ugly head again, the residents’ associations and protesters who spent years campaigning to prevent their neighbourhoods from becoming a devil’s playground of gas wells began organising again. These are traditional communities set to be hammered by the cost of living crisis. But they are damned if they will be bribed and bullied into submission.

The countryside is on the front line and it is ready for the fight.

Ministers, be warned.