Boris Johnson “has paved the way” for another major policy U-turn with speculation the recently announced fracking ban is to be reversed.
The prime minister has suggested that sealing the UK’s two shale gas wells does not make sense in light of the energy crisis following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Johnson’s spokesperson said today (March 9) that “all options” will be considered before the government’s energy strategy is completed, suggesting a fracking U-turn less than a month after the ban was announced.
Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng – who previously ruled out onshore fracking to address the energy crisis – suggested an imminent fracking U-turn is increasingly likely, telling MPs on Wednesday: “The government has always been clear that we will take a precautionary approach that supports shale gas exploration if it can be done in a safe and sustainable way.
“That remains our position. And we will be evidence-led.”
Just three days ago (March 6) Kwarteng wrote in a column for the Mail on Sunday: “Those calling for its [onshore fracking] return misunderstand the situation we find ourselves in.
“First, the UK has no gas supply issues. And even if we lifted the fracking moratorium tomorrow, it would take up to a decade to extract sufficient volumes – and it would come at a high cost for communities and our precious countryside.
“Second, no amount of shale gas from hundreds of wells dotted across rural England would be enough to lower the European price any time soon. And with the best will in the world, private companies are not going to sell the shale gas they produce to UK consumers below the market price. They are not charities, after all.”
Today in the Commons, Ed Miliband, the shadow secretary for climate change called on the fracking moratorium to continue and asked Kwarteng: “Will he confirm that the moratorium that was put in place will remain in place, no ifs, no buts, as fracking would not make any difference to the prices consumers pay, is dangerous, and would take decades to come on stream.”
Kwarteng said the government’s position “is clear” and it will “take a precautionary approach and support shale gas exploration if it can be done in a safe and sustainable way.”
Russian oil ban sparks speculation of fracking ban U-turn
The Telegraph states: “This newspaper understands ministers now back England’s only two viable shale gas wells being handed to British Geological Survey rather than sealed up with concrete, in a sign of the softening position.”
Fracking company Cuadrilla was ordered in February to seal its two shale gas wells by the Oil and Gas Authority.
Speculation about a fracking ban U-turn rose intensified after Tuesday’s (March 8) announcement by both the US and UK of a ban on Russian oil imports. Kwarteng said Russian oil imports will be phased out by the end of the year and that the government is “exploring options” to end gas imports from Russia. They make up just 3% of the UK’s total gas usage, with the North Sea, Norway, the US and Qatar supplying the rest.
Baker’s dangerous new tactic in culture wars
Thirty Tory MPs – including ex-Brexit ministers Lord David Frost and Steve Baker – wrote to Johnson in February to demand the government reverse its fracking ban.
Baker – the chair of the European Research Group (ERG) and one of the founders of the Net Zero Scrutiny Group (NZSG) – has been criticised for being funded by a climate science denier.
Green MP Caroline Lucas tweeted: “Tory MP Steve Baker claims his Net Zero Scrutiny Group ‘follows climate science’, yet now he’s been found taking money from climate deniers The mask has truly slipped – why won’t Steve and the other group members come clean and admit their intentions?”
Lucas linked to a report on DeSmog – which claims to be “the world’s number one source for accurate, fact-based information regarding global warming misinformation campaigns” – which states Baker received £5,000 “from the chair of the UK’s most prominent climate science denial group.”
Parliamentary records show Baker received the money from Tory party donor Neil Record, chair of the Institute of Economic Affairs think tank. Record is also chair of climate science-denying Global Warming Policy Forum. The IEA, DeSmog reports, “has received funding from oil giant BP, and has a record of opposing government climate policies.”
Baker’s NZSG 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.”