Politics

Fracking won’t happen in top Tory constituencies – but could it crack the red wall?

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.

Protest in the Nottinghamshire village of Misson, 20 September 2022.
Photo: Used with the owner’s consent

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:

  1. Liz Truss (prime minister, South West Norfolk)
  2. Therese Coffey (deputy prime minister and health secretary, Suffolk Coastal)
  3. Kwasi Kwarteng (chancellor of the exchequer, Spelthorne)
  4. James Cleverly (foreign secretary, Braintree)
  5. Suella Braverman (home secretary, Fareham)
  6. Brandon Lewis (justice secretary, Great Yarmouth)
  7. Nadhim Zahawi (chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, Stratford on Avon)
  8. Chris Heaton Harris (Northern Ireland secretary, Daventry)
  9. Penny Mordaunt (leader of the House of Commons, Portsmouth North)
  10. 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

Oil and gas licenses (in red) and protected areas (green). Map: Friends of the Earth

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.

These include: Alexander Stafford (Rother Valley), Holly Mumby-Croft (Scunthorpe), Mark Fletcher (Bolsover), Scott Benton (Blackpool south), Andy Carter (Warrington South) and Jacob Young (Redcar)

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.”

The only MPs on this list who have actively supported fracking are Lee Anderson (Ashfield) and Karl McCartney (Lincoln).

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.

Protest outside Cuadrilla’s fracking site at Preston New Road, 21 September 2022. Photo: Tina Rothery

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”.

Interactive map

Oil and gas licenses (in red) and protected areas (green). Map: Friends of the Earth

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.” 

10 replies »

  1. One wonders how those MPs, in favour of fracking “if it is safe”, assess the safety risk now. One also wonders if those of them who discern that we have no time to develop fracking as it is an “intense (sic) and slow process”, that proliferation of wells in the U.K. would be unacceptably large, and that it would not solve the immediate crisis, will vote when faced with the party whip from the unthinking party.

  2. Maybe some MPs will do some arithmetic and realize that fracking would be quicker than nuclear, that they seem to support? And think in the meantime, before spending £160B on new nuclear has produced anything, what is the alternative? LNG from Australia? LNG from USA?

    What the unthinking party will do is irrelevant. They didn’t think new nuclear was required, didn’t think that the sun would not always shine, the wind would not always blow, and if not, they thought there would be cheap imports of oil and gas from Russia. There may be some diehards who still think the same in the face of the reality, but the reasoning of the blue wall voters has been taken for granted for decades, and the ones I talk with are quite happy to have their energy costs reduced. After all, there are more of them who may see a large benefit to their disposable income compared to some of the wealthier constituencies. Being able to afford to heat and eat is more important in certain constituencies than whether to have a third holiday in other constituencies. Strange creatures-they also are pretty supportive of interconnectivity, 1720, and want more high-speed rail. Not too many champagne socialists in those constituencies.

  3. “Fracking won’t work in UK” says founder of fracking company Cuadrilla.

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/sep/21/fracking-wont-work-uk-founder-chris-cornelius-cuadrilla

    They claim to have the experience to back up that statement.

    Off their own website,

    ‘Members of Cuadrilla’s management team have each played leading roles in the drilling and/or hydraulic fracturing of more than 3,000 natural gas and oil wells across the world.’

  4. The unthinking party?

    Is that the one who thought new nuclear was not required, who thought the sun would always shine, who thought the wind would always blow, and if none of these things happened, who thought cheap oil and gas from Russia was always available? Good job whatever their whips do is irrelevant.

    Unthinking Champagne socialists who have shown little concern for certain constituencies, who are now the blue wall. People in those constituencies pretty keen on discounted energy prices so they have ability to eat and heat, whilst many in more affluent constituencies are more interested in whether they can afford their third holiday if nanny needs a 10% wage increase to stay on. Both types of constituencies contain voters who can calculate how long they have to wait for their £160B investment in new nuclear to produce anything, and what to do in the meantime. More unreliables produce just more unreliability. Those in the historic red wall, now the blue wall, because they have experienced that reality for decades. Now, they want things like connectivity, including more high-speed rail, 1720. Perhaps they just think differently to the Group Think, especially now, once more, experiencing what the Group Think has produced?

  5. Manned flight wouldn’t work either!

    Meanwhile, there seem to be those who think fracking can work in UK and are willing to invest, and if it works, just like on shore wind return some of the financial benefits to the locals.

    How well do wind turbines work when there is no wind jP? Of course, this winter there will be no high pressure sitting over the UK when energy demand peaks. LOL. Hate to mention this but I have already plonked my central heating on a couple of times this month, around two weeks earlier than the average of the last few years. Current forecast states getting colder again for this weekend. Pray for wind, or rely on something more reliable than prayer? I will rely on gas and going forward would prefer it comes from a local source rather than Australia or USA.

  6. We will see more Red Wall Tory MPs opposing fracking, safe in the knowledge that they can and will do nothing to stop it.

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