Andrea Leadsom has been appointed the new business and energy secretary with responsibility for the onshore oil and gas industry. The new local government secretary, who will decide on two shale gas planning appeals, is Robert Jenrick.
Mrs Leadsom, 56, returns to the department responsible for energy after a year as environment secretary and two years as leader of the House of Commons. She replaces Greg Clark who resigned this afternoon.
As energy minister in 2015, Mrs Leadsom admitted that her first questions to civil servants were “Is climate change real?” and “Is hydraulic fracturing safe?”
In 2016, she said fracking was an opportunity not to be missed
“We need a system fit for the 21st century, replacing coal with gas, nuclear, and renewables, and fracking is a key part of those plans. A shale gas industry will not only boost our economy and create thousands of jobs across the supply chain – it will help to guarantee a secure energy supply which is an absolute must for this government.”
She told the Politics Home website:
“It is way safer than most industrial processes. We’ve been properly regulating offshore and onshore gas for 50 years and have got the toughest regulations in the world.”
Also in 2016, emails showed that Mrs Leadsom and other ministers delayed a report which was critical of fracking until after Cuadrilla’s application to fracking in Lancashire had been decided.
In parliamentary exchanges, she promised there would be “no compromise” on taking account of the views of local communities on fracking.
As business secretary, Mrs Leadsom will be the sole shareholder of the Oil & Gas Authority (OGA), the industry regulator. This has come under pressure from shale gas companies to review the regulations on fracking-induced earth tremors, known as the traffic light system.
Cuadrilla and Ineos have both pushed the government to relax the current threshold of 0.5 on the local magnitude (ML) scale at which fracking must pause. So far, the OGA has not agreed to a review.
Mrs Leadsom, who represents South Northamptonshire, made two unsuccessful attempts in 2016 and 2019 to lead the Conservative Party.
Appeals and planning decisions
The new Communities, Housing and Local Government Secretary is Robert Jenrick. He replaces James Brokenshire, who was sacked today.
He will decide whether to overturn the refusals of planning permission for shale gas sites in south Yorkshire and Cheshire. Last month, Mr Brokenshire recovered the appeals for the Ineos site at Woodsetts and the IGas site at Ellesmere Port.
Another job on his to-do list will be to decide what to do about proposals by the Theresa May administration to fast-track fracking through the planning system.
A consultation ended in October 2018 on making shale gas exploration permitted development, avoiding the need for a full planning application.
The government was warned it might not have a parliamentary majority for the proposal and it was opposed by many Conservative-led councils, as well as environmental organisations and anti-fracking campaigners.
A parallel proposal, which is also outstanding, was to bring shale gas production under the regime for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects. This would remove decision-making from locally-elected councillors and give it to the Secretary of State.
Powerbase says Mr Jenrick’s Newark constituency has eight licence blocks8 for oil and gas exploration, issued in the most recent 14th round.
He told his local paper, the Newark Advertiser:
“It would be irresponsible not to pursue homegrown sources of energy.
“We have already seen the positives of fracking in the US, with a drop in oil and energy prices.”
Mr Jenrick, 37, has been the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury since January 2018. Before that he was a parliamentary private secretary to Amber Rudd as Home Secretary and Michael Gove as Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary.
He became an MP just over five years ago and was the youngest minister in Theresa May’s government. Before joining parliament, he practiced corporate law and held several senior financial roles at Christies.
Claire Perry to climate talks
The energy minister, Claire Perry, has relinquished her role and has been named President of the UK’s COP26 climate talks.
Ms Perry tweeted:
” Delighted to accept new PM’s offer to become COP26 President working closely with him but in order to do the job properly I suggested that I relinquish the broader Clean Growth and Energy portfolio and he has agreed.”