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Paul Vallely: Fracking will not solve the energy crisis

18 March 2022

Short-term gains would be offset by long-term pain, warns Paul Vallely


The Cuadrilla fracking site in Blackpool, Lancashire

The Cuadrilla fracking site in Blackpool, Lancashire

IS FRACKING back on the Government’s agenda as it seeks ways to reduce Vladimir Putin’s ability to exploit Europe’s dependency on Russian natural gas? Tory newspapers have suggested as much, despite Downing Street denials. Yet Boris Johnson remained curiously silent on the matter in a long newspaper article on energy security.

You could be forgiven for not knowing this. The article by the Prime Minister appeared in The Daily Telegraph, but non-subscribers were blocked from reading it by a paywall — a fact that gives new meaning to the idea of Cash for Access.

A curious coalition of climate sceptics is behind this new development. The former Brexit minister Lord Frost penned an article in The Sun last week lamenting that “Vladimir Putin’s unjust and evil war on Ukraine has finally reminded everyone” that our “energy supplies are at the mercy of a dictator”.

But, here’s the answer, the noble lord helpfully suggested: we should bring back fracking, which could provide us with “a competitive and reliable source of energy”, as it does for the United States. There is enough shale gas under Yorkshire and Lancashire, he claimed, to last for 50 years.

There are a few problems with this idea. In Lancashire, where a moratorium was imposed on fracking in 2019 after it caused two minor earthquakes, locals are clear about the downside: earth tremors, damage to property, chemical pollution of groundwater, and a negative effect on house prices.

We could, of course, simply set aside the concerns of a bunch of northerners. But there are other problems. The man who was behind the drilling in Lancashire, Iain Conn, a former chief executive of Centrica, says that the quality of our shale is not as good as America’s. Nor is it possible to drill enough wells to be able to make a material difference to the UK’s supplies.

So, who is pushing the bogus idea that fracking is the way to drive down rising energy prices, which look set to cause grief for millions of poorer households?

Step forward the Net Zero Scrutiny Group, the Orwellian name of a collection of about 20 hardline Brexiteer MPs, unelected peers, climate-change deniers, and Nigel Farage. Among those who appear to have discovered suddenly a passion for poverty alleviation is Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Minister for Brexit Opportunities and co-founder of Somerset Capital Management LLP, which has millions invested in oil and coal-mining, and traded shares in a firm that was fined more than £1 billion for its part in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.

The truth is that bringing back fracking would do little to assist the millions struggling to pay their bills. Gas produced in Britain would be sold on global markets at the global price. But it would be good for the profits of fossil-fuel companies and those who invest in them. And, if fracking were to go wrong, the costs of clearing up, possibly in the billions, would, no doubt, fall upon the taxpayer.

Opportunities do arise, thanks to the current energy crisis. But they are to accelerate clean renewable energy. Fracking would be short-term gain for long-term pain. The Prime Minister should resist the siren voices coming from the right of his party and beyond.

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