The constituencies of senior members of the cabinet will be untouched by fracking. But key red wall seats taken by the Conservatives from Labour in 2019, often with small majorities, are in shale gas areas.
As the government prepares to give more details on lifting the moratorium on fracking in England, analysis by DrillOrDrop and Friends of the Earth reveals:
- MPs who hold the leading positions of state have no licences for oil and gas developments in their constituencies
- Only two cabinet ministers represent seats where more than half the area is licensed
- 19 seats which switched to Conservative from Labour at the last election have oil and gas licences, many to develop shale gas
- Eight of these seats have majorities of less than 5,000
- At least six of these seats have MPs opposed to fracking or onshore oil and gas developments
- Conservative MPs in areas that could see a revival of fracking have often opposed the process or urged caution
Top Tories insulated from fracking
10 MPs who hold the leading positions of state have no licences in their constituencies. All represent seats in areas outside shale gas zones:
- Liz Truss (prime minister, South West Norfolk)
- Therese Coffey (deputy prime minister and health secretary, Suffolk Coastal)
- Kwasi Kwarteng (chancellor of the exchequer, Spelthorne)
- James Cleverly (foreign secretary, Braintree)
- Suella Braverman (home secretary, Fareham)
- Brandon Lewis (justice secretary, Great Yarmouth)
- Nadhim Zahawi (chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, Stratford on Avon)
- Chris Heaton Harris (Northern Ireland secretary, Daventry)
- Penny Mordaunt (leader of the House of Commons, Portsmouth North)
- Jacob Rees-Mogg, (business secretary, North East Somerset)
Just two cabinet members have seats where most of the constituency is licensed:
- 90% of Ben Wallace’s Wyre and Preston North constituency
- 80% of Beverley and Holderness, represented by Graham Stuart
Licences cover just 20% of North East Hampshire held by the environment secretary, Ranil Jayawardena, and 19% of Wells, the seat of James Heappey, the armed forces minister.
Of the cabinet members who have licences in their constituencies, at least five have publicly opposed fracking or urged caution.
Ben Wallace (defence secretary, Wyre and Preston North) opposed Cuadrilla’s plans for fracking at Roseacre Wood. The climate change minister, Graham Stuart, (Beverley and Holderness) wrote an article on his website in March 2022 headed “Please speak out against fracking”.
The levelling up secretary, Simon Clarke (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland), told Sky News (reported by the Independent) that fracking should be done in “the most sensitive way possible”. He said it was “important to obtain community consent and that meeting the country’s net zero commitment was “critical”.
In 2014, before fracking began at Preston New Road in Lancashire, Kit Malthouse (education secretary, North West Hampshire) said:
“There are some great new technologies in operation today that we should develop and exploit before we resort to fracking”.
James Heappey wrote an article in the New Statesman headed “Why fracking needn’t be in anyone’s back yard”.
But Jake Berry (party chairman and minister without portfolio, Rossendale and Darwen) told ITV’s Peston programme (reported by the Lancashire Telegraph) that fracking was a good thing.
Red wall seats
19 constituencies with oil and gas licences switched from Labour to Conservative at the last election. (Wakefield returned to Labour at a by-election in June 2022).
Of these, all but one is held with a majority of less than 10,000. Eight have a majority of less than 5,000.
The constituencies that switched to Conservative in 2019 are represented by at least six MPs who supported the fracking moratorium or opposed oil and gas developments in their constituencies.
No chance we’ll be fracking – that ship has sailed. Even if we started exploration today gas extraction would be 5 years away, and it’s sold technology now anyway. Would be like going to the apple store and asking for an iPhone3G.— Jacob Young MP (@JacobYoungMP) January 13, 2022
Very on board with nuclear though.
Brendan Clarke-Smith, MP for Bassetlaw, which includes the shale gas site at Springs Road, Misson, told a constituent:
“My position on it [fracking at Misson] hasn’t changed and I still think the site is unsuitable.”
Tory shale gas MPs speak out
Conservatives hold 15 out of the 33 constituencies where 90% or more of the land is licensed for oil and gas extraction.
Mark Menzies, whose Fylde constituency includes Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road fracking site, told the prime minister that the area was “entirely unsuitable” for fracking.
He told the Guardian earlier this month:
“Twice fracking has taken place here and twice it has resulted in a national moratorium. That is no coincidence. The last seismic event here was 250 times the industry-agreed safe limit, releasing 3,000 times more energy.
“It has been demonstrated without doubt the geology here is not suitable and I have made clear to the prime minister exploration should not resume locally. If she is serious about fracking only going ahead with local consent she will listen carefully to what I have to say.”
All of Ben Bradley’s Mansfield constituency is also licensed. He opposed government plans in 2018 to ease the planning rules on shale gas developments, now again being sought by the industry.
Kevin Hollinrake has 21 licences in his Thirsk and Malton constituency in North Yorkshire, the largest of any MP.
He continues to support fracking but with conditions. This week, he set out his views in response to questions from a constituent:
“My view is that I am supportive of renewable energy and reducing our reliance on imports of fossil fuels. I have previously spoken about insulating more homes to reach our net zero target cost-effectively.
“I am supportive of fracking if it is safe, however fracking is an intense and slow process due to the number of well sites that are required. Resuming fracking would not solve the immediate crisis as it would take at least 10 years to produce the gas that we would need.”
Edward Leigh has 16 licences in his Gainsborough constituency. He wrote on his website:
“The most important thing is that the wishes and desires of local residents, workers, and businesses are complied with. I am always happy to support local residents whenever they are opposed to fracking applications, and fracking – while safe – must never be allowed where it is not wanted and where there is significant opposition.”
Alexander Stafford opposed Ineos shale gas plans at Harthill and Woodsetts in his Rother Valley constituency, which has five licences.
He said he would continue to support residents opposed to fracking if there was any attempt to explore opportunities in the local area again:
“The community does not want fracking. I do not want it and we will do what we can to ensure it does not happen.
“There is an energy crisis and a need to improve the UK’s energy security for the future; however, Liz Truss has been clear that fracking will only be allowed where local support can be demonstrated. Be assured, I will work with the local community to make it clear that there is no support.”
Lee Rowley (North East Derbyshire) opposed Ineos shale gas plans at Marsh Lane in his constituency, where more than 90% is licensed.
He wrote a Facebook post in August 2022, before the prime minister announced she was lifting the moratorium:
“My position today is the same as before: I will always oppose fracking in North East Derbyshire. It would be a huge imposition for our area and local residents have been clear that they don’t want it. I made a promise and I will keep it. And, if I have the privilege of being the Conservative candidate in our area again in the next election, I fully expect to repeat that pledge in advance of you making a decision about who becomes your next MP.”
He said he would oppose any and all specific applications in the constituency and would “work with anyone and everyone to try to prevent them”.
Friends of the Earth today published a map of onshore oil and gas licences.
This showed that 91 local authorities and 143 parliamentary constituencies in England had oil and gas exploration licences.
More than 30 of these constituents have a majority of 5,000 or less.
The organisation’s fracking campaigner, Danny Gross, said:
“Shale gas extraction causes earthquakes and contributes to climate breakdown and will do almost nothing to reduce energy bills.
“Fracking is by far the most unpopular and least effective way of generating energy in the UK and has been opposed by communities wherever it has been attempted.
“Any attempt to water down the rules that help safeguard people from the threat of fracking will only fuel its unpopularity.
“If Liz Truss wants to build a strong economy for the future, she should champion home insulation and the UK’s plentiful renewable resources. They are cheap, quick to develop and are popular with the public.”