The Conservative leadership challenger, Liz Truss, has suggested that the moratorium on fracking in England should be lifted and decisions left to local people.
In an interview with the Telegraph today, she said
“On the subject of fracking, I think it depends on the local area, and whether there is support in the local area for it. But I certainly think we need to be doing all we can to lower the cost of energy for consumers.”
Asked by the paper whether there was a strong case for lifting the ban and leaving local residents to decide whether fracking takes place, she replied:
The business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, who backs Ms Truss, is considering a scientific review of fracking by the British Geological Survey. The report, delivered 12 days ago, could be used to justify a lifting of the moratorium, in force in England since November 2019.
Ms Truss, who came third in the most recent round of voting, did not reveal in her interview how local residents would make the decision. She was also not challenged on whether fracking for shale gas would help reduce the current energy prices, something rejected by opponents.
Her suggestion that the moratorium should be lifted will please the shale gas industry. But giving decisions to local people probably won’t.
The industry’s lobbying organisation, UK Onshore Oil and Gas, called last month for shale gas developments to be defined as nationally-significant infrastructure.
This would take decisions away from local councils and give them to planning inspectors and ministers. Proposals would have to go through public inquiries and decisions would probably take longer than those made by councillors.
The Conservative Environment Network argued this weekend that there was “considerable opposition to fracking” and shale gas developments would not solve the cost of living crisis.
Its director, Sam Hall, speaking to Express.co.uk, said:
“If it’s possible to extract lots of gas through fracking in a way that local communities are willing to accept then I think it’s worth looking at.
“But I think the reality of its past experience of trying it in the UK is that our geology is just not suited to fracking, which creates seismic events.
“Local communities don’t like the disruption, we’re a densely populated island and I think there would be significant opposition if fracking applications are made.”
Mr Hall said he believed the amount of gas and benefits gained from reintroducing fracking would be “pretty small”. He advised the leadership candidates that fracking was “not a fix to the energy crunch and it’s not a cost of living measure either”.
A lifting of the moratorium could cost the Conservatives votes in red wall and traditional Tory seats, he said:
“It is likely instead to be very politically controversial instead in some of the marginal seats that the conservatives need to win in 2024.”
Even the leading company in UK onshore shale gas appeared to have softened its stand on forcing the industry on local communities.
Speaking this weekend to the Telegraph, Brian Gilvary, chair of Ineos Energy, said:
“I think there are communities in the UK that would support it. But equally, if a local community doesn’t want it, I’m not sure there is a huge amount of upside in trying to pursue a project”.
Ineos has the largest number of onshore shale gas licences in the UK.
In 2015, Ineos executive Tom Pickering told DrillOrDrop the company would seek planning permission for shale gas schemes, even if local people objected.
Asked how the company would judge whether it had a social licence, Mr Pickering said:
“You would take stock, having done a couple of wells, if you got permission to, and then say to people judge us on our performance and what’s been done.”
Asked what he would do if the answer from people was still ‘we don’t want it’, he said:
“I would take that to Jim [Ratcliffe, the major Ineos shareholder] and see what he had to say about it.”
Ineos made three applications for shale gas exploration in villages in Derbyshire and south Yorkshire. Two got planning permission (Marsh Lane, Derbyshire and Harthill, south Yorkshire). But the consents expired last year before any work was carried out (details here and here).
Under current planning rules, Ineos would have to make new planning applications if it wanted to revive these schemes.
The third application, at Woodsetts, in South Yorkshire, was refused last month by the housing minister, Stuart Andrew. The deadline for Ineos to appeal against the decision is this week.