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Climate change minister says green groups are “foolish” and “morally-disingenuous” in opposing shale gas

30th June 2014

Climate change minister Greg Barker has accused environmental groups of being “foolish” and “morally disingenuous” for opposing shale gas and fracking, but “doing little” about coal.

Giving the keynote speech at a meeting on shale gas at Westminster, Mr Barker said it was easier for campaign groups to go to Balcombe, where Cuadrilla drilled an exploratory oil well last year, and “protest in the summer sunshine”.

Mr Barker said for climate change reasons, coal was the enemy and the most important thing was to keep it in the ground.

He said he had a clear moral message to those who felt, like he did, that climate change was the biggest threat to humankind in the 21st century:

“It is time to come down off the barricades.”

He said: “We should not fear gas. Nor should we fear fracking. And we should certainly not trust knee-jerk or emotional reactions to what is simply a particular technology. Fracking is not some Frankenstein technology.”

“If used thoughtfully, responsibly, unfailingly to the environmental standards a new boom in global gas production need not be the enemy of effective action against climate change”, he said. “It could be an invaluable ally.”

Mr Barker said the UK had one of the strongest regulatory systems in the world. But he added: “You would never have guessed that from all the hoo-ha down at Balcombe in deepest Sussex during the warm summer last year where people made heroic efforts to get themselves arrested and made the terribly selfless sacrifice to stand up for their environmental principles in the balmy Sussex countryside.”

Mr Barker said: “It is important that anyone advocating a greater role for gas acknowledges the genuine concerns of the potential impact of shale gas extraction. These concerns are not something we should look to shy away from. Indeed if we are to maintain our reputation for responsible development we must address these concerns head-on and not duck away from any difficult questions.”

But minutes later he criticised environmental groups again: “It is not only foolish, I think it is morally disingenuous”, he said, “for many campaign groups who, in fact are campaigning organisations in search of a cause, to tie themselves so vociferously to the arguments against gas when they are doing so very little to deal with coal.”

He asked: “Where are the demonstrations against the big new European coal plants? Where are the petitions to stop the growth and rise of unabated coal in the rest of Europe? Where are the petitions and protesters against the rise and rise of coal in the developing world?

“Much, much easier to go to Balcombe and sit in the summer sunshine and protest while the parish council makes you sandwiches.”

Mr Barker’s was forced to rein back some of his comments later in the meeting when he was asked a question from Balcombe resident and anti-fracking campaigner Kathryn McWhirter, who was in the audience.

She said: “I was shocked by the tone of sarcasm in your voice, twice, when you talked about people campaigning in Balcombe.”

Developments by Cuadrilla in Balcombe were, she said, something that people felt was a danger to the village, other parts of the country and further afield.

“We have read peer-reviewed science. We are not emotional. I was horrified that in one breath you are sarcastic about us and in the second breath you are saying how you should acknowledge the genuine concerns of local residents.”

Kathryn McWhirter said Balcombe’s experience of regulation was that monitoring of Cuadrilla’s well was “practically non-existent.” She said the Health and Safety Executive never came to check the integrity of the well and it never had any of the meetings it was meant to have with the Environment Agency. She said the EA relied on an email from Cuadrilla at the end of each week that it was doing what it was supposed to do.

“I could go on for an hour unpicking everything you have said”, she added.

Mr Barker responded:

“I think it is important that we take sensible concerns from local communities at face-value, even if they are based on quite spurious, you know, internet-based allegations or assertions.”

“My sarcasm was aimed not a Balcombe but at the protesters that turned up in Balcombe”, he said.

“We were there”, Kathryn McWhirter replied.

“I was particularly thinking of people who went to Balcombe which isn’t a great sacrifice”, Mr Barker said. “How many of those people who protested at Balcombe are day-in and day-out protesters outside coal-fired power stations in the UK?”

  • We will be asking environmental groups for their reaction to Mr Barker’s comments

9 replies »

  1. You can ask for my comments! A) it’s exactly what what is needed to be said. Greg is a major supporter of solar and wind. B) Where was this said
    C) Strange how the Guardian missed this ….

    • But he is wrong about the strong UK regulation. The 1996 onshore/offshore regulation are not fit to cover intensive highvolum high pressure shale fracking. When these regulations were drafted shale fracking as practiced today had not even been refined and there was no conception of the sheer number of wells required and that they might be situated in areas of high population density.

  2. Interesting that Greg Barker goes on about coal plants elsewhere than in the UK, even though the UK government makes no real attempts to shut down such coal plants in the UK. In fact, the government Greg belongs to has recently made it easier for coal plants to stay open for longer and is pinning all its hopes on making coal burning, and gas burning for that matter, less damaging for the climate by banking on CCS becoming commercially viable soon and at a reasonable cost, a high risk strategy indeed given the difficulties in CCS development. A much less risky strategy is getting the UK off ALL fossil fuels as soon as possible. Greg is himself being morally disingenuous in accusing environmental groups of not making coal the main enemy when he does nothing himself in helping to make coal a thing of the past and is complicit in being part of a government that makes no real commitment to phasing out coal on any kind of timescale appropriate to dealing with climate change effectively Shale gas extraction is yet another fossil fuel development and all environmental groups are united to calling for all new fossil fuel extraction, whether it be coal, gas, or oil, to be stopped. Greg knows that most fossil fuel reserves must now be left in the ground f we are to have any chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change. That does not mean environmental groups have to mount protests outside every coal fired power station (there’s too many of them, unfortunately!), but they will keep on working to change government policy in the direction of sanity, away from dependence upon fossil fuels. Anyway, has Greg forgotten the demonstrations outside Kingsnorth power station, which succeeded in preventing a brand new coal fired power station being built? Presumably Greg would like to show his support for that action?

  3. Hi Nick Thanks for your comment. It was at a meeting of the APPG on Unconventional Gas and Oil held jointly with the think-tank ResPublic.

  4. 200+ organisations campaigned for a 2030 power decarbonisation target in the Energy Act; this would have phased-out coal. http://www.foe.co.uk/sites/default/files/downloads/energy_2030_decarb.pdf

    The Government whipped its MPs hard and narrowly defeated this amendment
    http://www.foe.co.uk/sites/default/files/downloads/clean_power_mp_vote.pdf . Other Government policies eg on Emissions Performance Standard are too weak to tackle coal either. The responsibility for the problem with coal is with Government ministers, and it’s a problem they have made worse.

    The world cannot afford to burn more than a quarter of existing coal, oil and gas reserves. President Obama and Shell have both acknowledged this “unburnable carbon” problem. This is an issue for gas as well as coal and oil – Government energies should be focussed on renewables and energy efficiency, not further unburnable fossil fuel exploration.

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