The cabinet minister who announced the moratorium on fracking last year has been sacked in today’s reshuffle.
Andrea Leadsom was replaced this afternoon by Alok Sharma as secretary of state for business, energy and industry strategy.
Mr Sharma (52), a former international development secretary, will also be president of the COP26 climate talks in November. This follows the sacking of the former energy minister, Claire Perry O’Neill earlier this month
A former accountant, Mr Sharma advised clients on cross border mergers and acquisitions, listings and restructurings.
He was elected MP for Reading in 2010. He also held ministerial posts at housing, employment and the foreign office.
Mr Sharma supported shale gas in a letter to constituents in March 2019. This was five months after more than 50 induced tremors caused by the first fracks at Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site, near Blackpool. Alok Sharma letter on fracking
“I understand that there is a very low risk that shale gas extraction could cause any noticeable tremor at the surface. Operators must now use all available geological information to assess the location of faults before wells are drilled and monitor seismic activity before during and after operations.”
He said there were on average 166 naturally-occurring seismic events of magnitude 2.9 or below each year in the UK, most of which go unnoticed.
Five months after the letter, fracturing on Cuadrilla’s second well at the site caused a 2.9ML event, the largest fracking-induced seismic event in the UK. It was felt across the Fylde and led to the suspension of fracking at the site. There were several hundred reports of damage to the British Geological Survey.
Mrs Leadsom declared an immediate moratorium on fracking on 2 November 2019 following a study on Cuadrilla’s operations for the Oil & Gas Authority.
Data from the website They Work For You shows that Mr Sharma voted in parliament for greater restrictions on fracking in national parks and other protected areas and for a more extensive of set of conditions before fracking was approved.
But he voted against explicitly requiring environmental permits for fracking and against a ban on unconventional petroleum exploitation for 18 months.
Eustice replaces Villiers at environment
Theresa Villiers has been sacked as environment secretary and replaced by the former farming minister, George Eustice.
Ms Villiers was regarded as a supporter of fracking. During the passage of the Infrastructure Bill with measures on fracking, she posted a statement on her website:
“We need to strike the right balance between the legitimate concerns of landowners, and the benefits to society as a whole of permitting development.”
The environment secretary is responsible for the Environment Agency, one of the main regulators of onshore oil and gas.
Mr Eustice (48) is a former PR executive. He has been MP for Camborne and Redruth since 2010.
In 2015, he voted for more extensive conditions on hydraulic fracturing and for greater restrictions on fracking in national parks and other protected areas. He was absent for two votes on Infrastructure Bill in January 2015.
No change at local government
The other key minister for the onshore oil and gas industry has not changed.
Robert Jenrick remains as local government secretary, with responsibility for deciding the appeals at Ellesmere Port and Woodsetts.