A small but influential group of people have changed public perception against shale gas, Cuadrilla’s commercial director told a committee of MPs this afternoon.
Tony Carruthers blamed anti-fracking campaigners for what he called “ridiculous scaremongering” and said their propaganda had been “extraordinarily successful”.
His comments came a fortnight after Cuadrilla was refused permission to drill and frack four exploratory wells at Preston New Road in Lancashire. The company also failed in its bid to frack another four wells nearby at Roseacre Wood.
Speaking to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Unconventional Gas and Oil, Mr Carruthers said the government needed to promote a fact-based debate about fracking.
He was asked by Lord Crickhowell, the former Conservative MP Nicholas Edwards, what were the key things he would like to see to speed up shale gas exploration. He replied:
“Four or five years ago you could turn up with a drilling rig or even a fracturing rig and just drill a well on the planning officer’s discretion.”
“That is actually not very long ago and all the wells, thousands of wells in the UK onshore, have been drilled in that way.”
“So what actually has changed since then? The only thing that has changed is public perception. So actually we don’t need to fix a whole bunch of things. What we need to do is stop this ridiculous scaremongering from a very small but very very influential group of people who have been extraordinarily successful in essentially polluting the well of public good work.”
Industrialising the countryside
The MP for Thirsk and Malton, Kevin Hollinrake, said his constituents were concerned that fracking plans by Third Energy would industrialise the countryside. They were also worried about the ability of the regulator to control the industry.
Mr Carruthers said: “Of course we understand why people might be concerned like that, particularly if they have been fed, you know, a huge amount of extraordinary propaganda, quite a lot of which is completely untrue.”
He admitted that the industry had “lost the narrative”.
“Once that has gone it is very difficult to get it back again”, he said. In times of stress, he added, the industry retreated “back to facts and logical arguments”. But he said: “That isn’t working”.
“Our opponents, what they do for a living, is sway public opinion very effectively”
He called on the government to promote what he described as “fact-based debate”. “Let’s have the government stand up and say ‘No. I’m sorry, that’s wrong’”.
Mr Carruthers said Cuadrilla was disappointed to have lost the Lancashire applications. “We will continue to review our options for our sites in Lancashire”, he said. The company was looking forward to the results of the 14th licensing round. “We fully believe we will see UK shale gas exploration and development in the course of the next five years.”
Another speaker, Simon Tindale, of the consultancy Climate Answers, criticised environmental groups opposed to fracking and said he had left Friends of the Earth because of its campaign against shale gas.
“The climate crisis is so great that we need to do everything possible to counter it”, he said.
He said shale gas would help to get coal out of the electricity system. And he referred to some research which concluded that shale gas was less bad in climate terms than coal and imported LNG. But he was challenged on this by the campaigner, Kathryn McWhirter, who said some studies showed that fugitive emissions from shale gas made it worse than coal, while the carbon footprint for shale gas and imported LNG were so close as to be insignificant.
On fugitive emissions, Mr Carruthers said: “It is very easy to be alarmist about this but in a modern, well-constructed well you do not get leaks. Commercially it would be insane to allow fugitive methane to escape.”
“If you had half a dozen cows in a field next door, even a handful of cows, would be emitting far more methane.”