PM warned about electoral risk of growing opposition to fracking

1711106 Pickering Con Club KMPC3

Opponents of fracking outside Pickering and District Conservative Club, 6 November 2017. Photo: Kirby Misperton Protection Camp

The prime minister has been warned that government support for fracking risks losing the Conservatives seats at the general election.

Polling suggests that support for fracked gas is below 30% in the Conservatives’ most marginal seats.

Nearly 100 anti-fracking groups and campaigners have now written to Boris Johnson calling for a ban.

The joint letter, whose signatories include Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Extinction Rebellion, Ecotricity and Frack Free United, told the prime minister:

“With over 40 marginal seats in over 170 English parliamentary constituencies affected by exploration licences, the scale of the impact of fracking in the UK should not be underestimated.”

The letter said the government’s own polling – a quarterly survey by the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy – most recently put support for fracking at 15%. And it said:

“Within your own party, opponents also include a growing number of concerned MPs, councillors and supporters, and the Conservative Environment Network recently called for a ban on fracking.”

The letter supported a call from the Conservative MP, Mark Menzies, for a ban on fracking in his Fylde constituency in Lancashire. This following the UK’s strongest fracking-induced earth tremor caused by Cuadrilla’s shale gas site near Blackpool in August.

But the signatories said this did not go far enough.

“It is now clear that fracking companies cannot operate within the Government’s seismic safety limits which the companies and experts previously accepted.”

They said:

“In light of the recent earthquakes in Lancashire, the Government’s own conclusion that we have secure gas supplies for 20 years, the increased climate change impact of methane and the unwavering opposition to this industry across the country and within the Conservative Party, we urge you to ban fracking with immediate effect.”

A briefing accompanying the letter by an academic at York University predicted that fracking would not win votes for the party.

Briefing on impact of fracking on marginal seats

Dr Simon Sweeney, a senior lecturer in international political economy and business, said government aspirations for a gas supply based on fracking would involve hundreds of wells and overwhelming public protest.

“This will do incredible damage to the Conservative Party in marginal seats. It will cost them those seats, and in rural areas targeted for fracking, the opposition to the industry will be more profound with every passing week, as a threat remains.”

“Fracking cannot be a vote winner”

The polling was carried out in April 2019 for the Conservative Environment Network.

Dr Sweeney said it revealed particular opposition in the 170+ constituencies which have some area of Petroleum Exploration and Development Licence (PEDL). About 40 of these constituencies are marginal seats.

He said among 2017 Conservative voters, 74% opposed fracking, while 37% were supportive. Support for onshore wind farms was typically over 80% in marginal constituencies and 78% of voters said reducing CO2 emissions to zero as soon as possible  was either important or very important.

Dr Sweeney said:

“Support for fracking is higher among Conservative voters than supporters of other parties, but to attract swing voters, the Conservatives should surely join with other parties in rejecting this unpopular and environmentally destructive exploitation of yet another fossil fuel.

“Earth tremors, air, light and water pollution, and massive industrialisation of the countryside, cannot be a vote winner.”

Polling details

In the Conservatives’ 15 most marginal constituencies support for fracked gas was below 30%.

In eight of these constituencies, support was below 25% and in six it was below the UK average of 24.2%.

Support for fracking in Conservative-held constituencies (ranked by most marginal)

  1. Stoke-on-Trent South 25.1%
  2. Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland 29.4%
  3. Mansfield 24.8%
  4. North East Derbyshire: 24.6%
  5. Southport 25.5%
  6. Broxtowe 19.7%
  7. Bolton West 23.8%
  8. Pendle 23.9%
  9. Morecambe and Lunesdale 26.9%
  10. Copeland 24.1% (does not contain any PEDL licences)
  11. Blackpool North and Cleveleys 22.8%
  12. Morley and Outwood 27.4%
  13. Rossendale and Darwen 25.3%
  14. Scarborough and Whitby 26.5%
  15. Erewash 23.3%

According to the polling, areas where there are active or planned shale gas developments, also saw support for electricity from fracked gas below 30%.

  1. North East Derbyshire (Con) 24.6%
  2. Thirsk and Malton (Con) 25.1%
  3. Bassetlaw (Lab) 25.8%
  4. Rother Valley (Lab) 26.7%
  5. Fylde (Con) 27.7%



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