Boris Johnson is under fresh attack from his own backbenches after his government announced a fracking ban.
Tory MPs and members of the Lords have denounced the ban as unconservative while claiming fracking would help Britain avoid future energy crises and massive price hikes.
More than 30 Tory rebels – including former Brexit minister Lord David Frost – have written to the embattled prime minister, insisting it is “time to reverse this moratorium”.
Doing so would herald a “British energy renaissance”, Frost told the Telegraph yesterday (February 12). “If our economy is to boom after Brexit, British industry needs a competitive and reliable source of energy which we hold in our own hands and brings investment into this country. Shale gas production achieves all this and more.”
Fracking ban ‘not thought through’, claims Cuadrilla
Shale gas company Cuadrilla was ordered to plug and abandon its two wells in Lancashire by the government’s industry regulator, the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) last week.
Francis Egan, the CEO of Cuadrilla said he believes the decision has not “been properly thought through”.
Egan claims the fracking ban will “make reducing global emissions even harder” because importing gas produces “far higher” emissions “than those from home-produced shale gas.”
However, climate campaigners have welcomed it, saying the UK must avoid the “lock-in” to burning fossil fuels that projects such as Cuadrilla’s define.
The moratorium on UK shale gas production was imposed by the government in 2019 following concerns about tremors and earthquakes following fracking.
Although the OGA’s report said it is not currently possible to forecast the magnitude or probability of earthquakes linked to fracking, it said its decision was “on the basis of disturbance caused to residents living near” the site in Lancashire.
Fracking ban based on scientific evidence
“The development of domestic energy sources, including fracking, must be safe and cause minimal disruption and damage,” said a spokesperson for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
“We ended support for fracking on the basis of scientific evidence, showing that it is not currently possible to accurately predict the probability and size of tremors associated with fracking. Shale gas remains unproven as a resource in the UK.”
The decision has not deterred the Tory MPs or peers who make up the Conservative Net Zero Scrutiny Group (NZSG).
In their letter to Johnson, the NZSG claim shale gas mining would “allow us to combat the cost of living crisis, level up, create jobs, opportunity and a renewed sense of community in the north, improve our energy security, reduce our reliance on imported gas, stabilise energy prices and achieve net zero without increasing the cost of living for already hard-pressed working families.”
The group has been accused of trying to drag climate policies into a culture war. It is a “dangerous new tactic being used by those opposed to addressing the ecological emergency”, Michael Mann, the author and internationally renowned climate expert, told the Guardian. “This is where the frontline of the battle is now, and yes, we do have to push back fiercely on this sort of pernicious disinformation.”
UK gas imports will dramatically increase
Energy imports are rising by £800 million each month according to figures released by the Office for National Statistics. The natural gas deficit has doubled in a year to almost £2 billion per month and the UK’s gas imports are set to “increase dramatically” over the next 30 years, according to the Financial Times – “even if all of the existing North Sea reserves are exploited.”
Domestic oil and gas production is in long-term decline, having peaked 20 years ago. Six North Sea projects were approved in 2021 and up to 10 are seeking approval this year and in 2023.
Forecasts predict the UK will be importing 85% of gas by 2050, up from 70% in 2030.
Johnson’s fracking U-turn
The government’s decision to seal the UK’s only two shale gas wells represents a(nother) major U-turn for the prime minister.
A decade ago Johnson championed fracking – the process of extracting shale gas by rupturing rocks with water –and rallied readers of his column in the Telegraph, to “ignore the doom merchants” and “their mad denunciations of fracking”.
It is the article with the famous line that the “collective oomph” of wave power, solar power and biomass “wouldn’t pull the skin off a rice pudding.”
The opening paragraph could have been written this week with Johnson stating in December 2012: “Here we are in the fifth year of a downturn. We have pensioners battling fuel poverty. We have energy firms jacking up their prices. We have real worries about security of energy supply – a new building like the Shard needs four times as much juice as the entire town of Colchester. “
Johnson adds: “We are therefore increasingly and humiliatingly dependent on Vladimir Putin’s gas or on the atomic power of the French state.”