Anti fracking campaigners vow to fight – but one food bank organiser warns ‘people will die of cold this winter’ if nothing changes
he clock is ticking as Lancashire waits for the results of a crunch scientific study into fracking, with new Prime Minister Liz Truss reportedly set to confirm a controversial shale gas wells near Blackpool could be reopened in a massive ban overturn.
Ministers are said to have now received a report from the British Geological Survey and are considering their ‘next steps’. This could see Lancashire’s hotly disputed shale gas wells reopened in Preston New Road near Blackpool, after plans to seal them up were shelved earlier this year.
Plans to seal up Lancashire’s hotly disputed shale gas wells in Preston New Road near Blackpool were halted earlier this year with former PM Boris Johnson under pressure from Tory MPs to end a temporary 2019 ban in the wake of tremors. The North Sea Transition Authority (NTSA) agreed to withdraw requirements for the wells to be decommissioned by the end of June, while Tory MPs were said to have called for planning laws to allow the green light for fracking with local support.
Liz Truss has made no secret of her support for the controversial technology, pledging to overturn the ban on it during her leadership campaign, when she said: “I support exploring fracking in parts of the United Kingdom where that can be done.” Speaking outside Number 10, she said: “I will deal hands-on with the energy crisis caused by Putin’s war. I will take action this week to deal with energy bills and to secure our future energy supply.”
Downing Street has now hinted that the fracking ban could be lifted in a dramatic U-turn from the start of this year, when energy company Cuadrilla said the country’s two shale wells were to be abandoned. The move ended more than a decade of controversy over fracking for gas in the UK. The rethink is said to have come after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine caused alarm over energy prices and security.
It is understood Ms Truss is expected to tell MPs on Thursday that domestic energy bills will be frozen at around £2,500 as part of a package to ease the cost-of-living crunch – said to cost up to £150 billion. The Times suggested the freeze could last for up to two years – until the next general election in 2024 – and would be funded by increased borrowing. Ms Truss will also declare she is lifting the moratorium on fracking, according to reports, with potential for the change to be implemented at pace.Labour pointed to prior comments from then-business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng arguing that those calling for the return of onshore fracking “misunderstand the situation we find ourselves in”. In March, Mr Kwarteng – now Chancellor – wrote in The Mail on Sunday: “Even if we lifted the fracking moratorium tomorrow, it would take up to a decade to extract sufficient volumes – and it would come at a high cost for communities and our precious countryside. No amount of shale gas from hundreds of wells dotted across rural England would be enough to lower the European price any time soon.
“And with the best will in the world, private companies are not going to sell the shale gas they produce to UK consumers below the market price. They are not charities, after all.”
Companies have been said to be considering cutting people’s energy bills by up to 25 per cent if they back the technology in their areas. Director of policy at UK Onshore Oil and Gas Charles McAllister said last week that firms were considering a range of possibilities, including £100,000 for communities that welcome a test drilling site, shares in local revenues for any that subsequently go into production, and direct discounts for local people on fuel bills of up to a quarter.
But Claire Stephenson, of Frack Free Lancashire, told Lancs Live: “We’re expecting an overturn of the moratorium, but in what form that will look like, I don’t know. I’m part of a legal challenge that will follow on from the last case I won against the Secretary of State. It’s all set to roll should the moratorium change.
“There is absolutely no doubt: we are in the midst of a climate crisis. The unprecedented global temperatures that impacted the UK this summer, saw breakdown of everyday living, travel, work and homes destroyed through devastating fires. Our campaign in Lancashire has been running for years, highlighting the unmitigable danger that is hydraulic fracturing.
“Fracking has been an outright failure in Lancashire, and is currently on its second moratorium in 11 years – both implemented following uncontrollable earthquakes, causing damage and distress to the local community and beyond. Fracking holds many health, environment and climate risks.
“Methane is a dangerous greenhouse gas that causes our climate to heat. In 2019, a study from Manchester University showed that in just one week period, Cuadrilla’s fracking activities on the Fylde Coast caused around 4.2 tonnes of methane to leak into the air. This is the equivalent environmental impact of a whopping 142 transatlantic flights.
“As a result of this, researchers said that the carbon footprint of greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels are currently under-represented from fracking. It’s clear we should never allow this industry to begin again in the UK.”
But one food bank campaigner in Lancashire said they disagreed with ‘ideologies’ and warned ‘people would die of cold this winter’ if nothing changed. They said: “We are sitting on 50 years of gas reserves and have closed all our nuclear power stations to appease the green minority and now people will die of hyperthermia this winter. Why has the government let us become reliant on overseas energy when we have our own reserves that not only could fuel the UK but provide much needed jobs for people?
“I feel that unless a person has had to struggle for six months in an unfurnished council house with uncarpeted concrete floors, on a minimum wage job raising a family and having to wait a week to get their boiler fixed, then they should think twice about spouting their ideologies that the country cannot afford. They haven’t lived in the real world of poverty and despair.”
Yet councillors based in West Lancashire disagree – with Lancashire County Councillor Julie Gibson saying fracking is ‘not the answer’ to energy woes, telling, telling Lancs Live : “We saw the problems with earthquakes that fracking caused in Lancashire – both candidates dismissed these. What we need is an energy policy that focuses on renewables and promoting the benefits of green energy.” Similarly, Labour West Lancashire Borough Councillor Gareth Dowling said any return on investment would be a long time coming and pointed to safety issues, telling Lancs Live: “It could be decades before we saw any return on investment on fracking even if it did go ahead, but the fundamental issues remain about its safety and long term damage to the environment.”
The row over Lancashire’s shale gas wells ramped up again last week after energy regulator Ofgem announced that its price cap will rise to £3,549 for those on default tariffs paying by direct debit – up from the current figure of £1,971 and an 80% increase. Meanwhile, the stoppage of Russian energy giant Gazprom’s gas supplies to Europe via a major pipeline has also intensified callsfor home grown, reliable energy.
However, Climate Change Committee (CCC) chairman Lord Deben and Sir John Armitt, chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), have warned that the country is facing a “set of grim records” of high energy prices, extreme summer temperatures and surging inflation, due to climate change and economic challenges which threaten three-quarters of households with fuel poverty. The CCC and NIC chairmen have written to the new PM in a letter highlighting that addressing the UK’s dependency on fossil fuels is the best way out of the energy and climate crises and warning that gas is expected to stay expensive until 2027, with 90 per cent of the recent increase in the energy price cap driven by gas price rises.
Underlining how the UK cannot address the crisis solely by increasing production of natural gas, they urge the new Prime Minister to take urgent steps including improving insulation for households, providing an ‘energy advice service,’ and measures such as cheap onshore wind and solar farms and electric heat pumps to reduce the UK’s reliance on natural gas. Meeting the UK’s legal target to cut climate emissions to zero overall – known as net zero – by 2050 through measures such as energy efficiency and renewables can help protect the UK from fossil fuel prices, they argue, warning that 15 million homes need some kind of energy efficiency improvements but there is a lack of credible long-lasting policies to deliver it.
On Wednesday, the Prime Minister’s press secretary said: “She made clear her position during the campaign but I’m not going to get into what’s in this energy package.”
He insisted that the Conservative Party’s 2019 manifesto – which said the Tories will not support fracking unless the science shows categorically that it can be done safely – still stands in full.
A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said the outcome of the British Geological Survey’s report would be announced in due course.