Less than a quarter of people support relaxing the rules on fracking-induced earth tremors, according to results of a new survey published today.
Polling for the countryside charity, Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), revealed that 24% thought the rules should change in favour of the shale gas industry. More than twice as many (54%), supported the rules as they are.
Under the current regulations, known as the traffic light system, companies must pause fracking for 18 hours if their operations cause seismic events measuring 0.5ML or above on the local magnitude scale.
Cuadrilla’s fracks at Preston New Road near Blackpool last year caused 57 tremors, including eight at or above the 0.5ML threshold.
Since then, the shale gas industry has been lobbying for the 0.5ML threshold to be increased, to as high as 4.5ML.
According to the CPRE survey, over half (54%) of all respondents said they believed the government should prioritise the concerns of the general public when making decisions on whether or not to weaken regulations.
Just one person in 25 (4%) believed that the views of the fracking industry should take precedence.
Government data shows support for fracking is at a joint record low, opposition at a near record high and there has been a marked increase in concern about fracking-induced earth tremors.
Despite this, just 13% of respondents to the CPRE survey felt that the government was listening to the public on the issue of fracking. More than half (51%) believed they were being ignored.
Fracking at Cuadrilla’s site paused at least five times from October-December 2018 after operations induced tremors at or above the 0.5ML threshold. The company had said the loss of a single day’s operations would cost it £94,000.
Cuadrilla and Ineos, the country’s biggest shale gas licence holder, have since argued for the 0.5ML limit to be raised to make the industry commercially-viable. A group of academics and industry representatives called earlier this month for the traffic light system to be reviewed.
The government and the Oil and Gas Authority, which regulates the traffic light system, have both said publicly they have no plans for a review.
But there have been suggestions that the industry has appealed directly to the prime minister. Sky News reported yesterday that Theresa May and the business secretary, Greg Clark, met Sir Jim Ratcliffe of Ineos last week for discussions, which were said to have included government policy on fracking.
Tom Fyans, deputy chief executive at CPRE, said:
“The public has made it abundantly clear that they do not want earthquake regulations to be weakened. But given that they don’t believe that the government is listening to their concerns over fracking – at a time when we are facing the unprecedented threat of climate change – it is imperative that action is taken to restore public faith.
“If the government rolls over on this latest bout of industry lobbying and relaxes these standards to make way for more fracking – which exist to protect the public, our countryside and environment – it will only ramp up public opposition to new heights.”
CPRE has campaigned against government proposals to speed up shale gas schemes by considering non-fracking sites as permitted development. This would allow them to bypass the normal planning system and avoid the need to apply for planning permission.
Mr Fyans said:
“At a time when government proposals threaten to impose fast-tracked fracking over communities’ heads, it is crucial that it reassures the public that it is taking their concerns seriously.”
He called on the government to issue a definitive statement confirming that it would not weaken the regulations.
YouGov conducted the survey online on behalf of CPRE on 18-19 February 2019. The total sample size was 1,600 adults. The figures have been weighted to be representative of all adults (aged 18+) living in England.