Guest post: What Covid-19 teaches us about fracking in the UK

pnr 180828 fence slider

Fencing outside Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road fracking site, 18 August 2018. Photo: Ros Wills

In this guest post, Chris Hesketh makes the case for a post-Covid-19 recovery without fracking or unconventional gas extraction.

The mass lockdowns caused by Covid-19 are expected to reduce CO2 levels in 2020 by around 8%, which is similar to the 7.6% reduction needed every year in order to meet the Paris climate agreement.

The effects of runaway climate change will sadly make coronavirus look like a gentle warm up act, so we will have to face up to the CO2 challenge very soon.  Having prevaricated for so many years, the pace of change forced upon us will be drastic.

It is possible for us to avoid lockdown becoming a permanent state of affairs to address climate change but it will require governments to do their part in removing fossil fuels from our everyday lives.

Right now, the UK government is still prevaricating, talking about zero carbon commitments while its actions are going in the opposite direction.

As well as massive road building plans, four fracking or shale gas applications have been approved in recent years and ministers are considering whether to approve schemes at Ellesmere Port in Cheshire and Woodsetts in South Yorkshire.  Common sense prevailed on the now suspended Heathrow’s third runway scheme because of valiant court action, rather than the Government choosing to move in the right direction.

Scale back gas consumption

For some years, the nascent fracking industry in the UK has sought to portray itself as being an environmentally-friendly stepping stone to a cleaner future because it was supposedly cleaner than burning coal.

This argument is now blatantly false, partly because coal provides an almost insignificant proportion of UK electricity, but also because satellite measurements of methane levels from fracking areas show that because of the potent impact of small leaks, fracking is comparable to coal from a C02 perspective.

The other argument put forward by the fracking industry is that it is better to produce gas at home than to import it.  Far better than either option is to scale back our gas consumption so that we need neither fracking, nor imports.


Photo: DrillOrDrop

Insulating houses would provide large numbers of jobs in a post Covid-19 economy, whilst significantly reducing gas demand.  Similarly, incentivising heat pump installations instead of renewing gas boilers would reduce demand even further. Reinstating the zero carbon homes initiative, cancelled by George Osborne in 2015 without any justifiable reason, would avoid adding more houses to the gas network. Raising the special 5% VAT rate for gas and heating oil, whilst also reducing VAT on electricity, would further encourage the reduction in gas demand.

These options are economically sensible for both jobs and prosperity, as well as benefitting the climate.  In the future, there will have to be tax increases to pay for the Covid-19 bailout and it makes sense to apply them in places that benefit society.   Fuel poverty will be avoided by people using less gas in their better insulated homes, and progressively moving away from having a gas connection at all.

Public support for renewables

Thanks to the Blue Planet series, the general public are already keen on reduced plastic usage and this should be actively encouraged to continue.

As for fracking, the Government’s own opinion tracker has consistently shown that more people oppose than support it and there is popular support for incentivising further renewable energy production.  The public is supporting the best approach because renewable energy is now cheaper than all other options and the National Grid is showing that it is able to keep the power stable with ever diminishing amounts of fossil fuels.

By contrast, fracking has a high cost base and the companies seeking to do exploratory drilling right now are relying on the idea that the wholesale price of gas will go up in the future because the current price is too low for them to be economically viable. Implicitly, they are hoping that we remain locked into using lots of gas and are happy to pay higher prices so that they can have their opportunity to make some profits.

Now is the time to harness the popular consensus with a bold plan for a cleaner future, as well as rebuilding the economy after the financial impacts of the lockdown.

When Covid-19 struck, the UK government was initially concerned that the general public would resent the impact on their lives, but in practice people have shown that they believed in following the science and a sense of community unity has emerged.

180915 Bristol Rising Tide protest at EA Reclaim the Power3

Post-lockdown normal

A recurring question now is about what the new post-lockdown normal should look like.

There are economically-sensible options available to us that are in the best interests of the people and the planet, so it is time for the politicians to stop listening to the fossil fuel lobbyists and set out a plan for decarbonising the economy as a Covid-19 recovery strategy.

If we wish to look after the planet without needing a permanent lockdown, then we need a plan that makes some significant adjustments.  For the avoidance of all doubt, that plan will not include fracking, or any other form of unconventional gas extraction.

Chris Hesketh, a member of Frack Free Duddleston, successfully campaigned against unconventional gas extraction in Shropshire

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9 replies »

      • Thank you Benjamin, you are very kind
        It is interesting that these persistent detractors are unable to counter the arguments made and are thus implicitly accepting them. The simple fact is that the world is waking up to the need for action. Pursuing fracking, or indeed any form of unconventional gas extraction, is a pointless step backwards that will further increase the scale of the climate challenge. The latest public attitudes survey indicates that most people agree.

    • Wasn’t Frack Free Duddleston another one of the campaign groups that gave the following advice in their guidance for those wanting to object against the gas exploration in the area? “Refer to it as EXPLORATION FOR UNCONVENTIONAL GAS or CBM Drilling. Do not mention fracking as it is not in the Planning Application at this stage and your objection will be ignored.”

  1. A world in economic depression will turn to the cheapest and most reliable forms of energy.

    If the claims from the greens and environmentalists that renewables are the cheapest and most reliable form of electricity generation are true, we will witness huge progress and developments in them.

    If not, in a World economic climate with little money and a population struggling to survive, we will see fossil fuel use grow with very little concern given to climate change.

  2. Sorry. I stopped reading at Ellesmere Port.

    When an author deviates from the readily accessible facts so easily, then I lose faith in the rest of the text. Just the same when you see an article about how your football team will restructure and gain success, and then in the first paragraph you see that a Mr. Messi is going to sign! Not exactly well respected research.

    I’m sure such guests think they are doing their cause a service in producing such gems. However, at a time when it has only recently been shown that the public opinion of the media and journalists is at rock bottom, it might be the time to recognise this and keep to the facts??

  3. More “valiant court action” is now needed against the appeal re “now suspended Heathrow’s third runway scheme” sadly. The case against airport expansion remains good imho and that of others.
    I would like to see employment sites created swiftly on airports to give green jobs to redundant eg ground controllers and their colleagues, making components for renewable energy systems and insulation so they and their families don’t suffer the upheaval of moving house, changing journey to work, children’s schools etc etc.

  4. I expect you would dbc. However, airports will be back to “normal” as soon as a vaccine is discovered. Passengers will just have one more vaccination before they fly.

    Only around 18% of the world’s population have flown in an aircraft, but seeing other parts of the world is high on the list of those in most parts of the world, once they become more affluent-see, tourism in London! The other item high on the list is eating more animal protein, more regularly. So, sorry, both yourself and the vegans can make your case and it will appeal to a few, but out there the masses will still do what they want to, and Governments who get in the way will be changed.

    I suspect it will be a difficult job for Heathrow to get their third runway. Not for your reasons, but simply because it is in the wrong place. Extra capacity needs to be north or south of London to reduce overflying London, if you look at the normal prevailing wind patterns.

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