Boris Johnson is under pressure from Tory MPs to reverse the Government’s opposition to commercial fracking so the UK can exploit its shale gas reserves and reduce our reliance on foreign gas supplies.
With the Ukraine crisis contributing to surging household energy bills, nearly 40 MPs and peers in the Tory Net Zero Security Group are writing to the Prime Minister to urge him to stop the UK’s only two shale gas wells being concreted over within the next ten days.
Craig Mackinlay, chairman of the group – which was set up to scrutinise the Government’s plans to hit climate change targets – called on Mr Johnson to pause an Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) order that the two sites in Lancashire be plugged by March 15.
It comes after the Prime Minister silenced Jacob Rees-Mogg, the new Brexit Opportunities Minister, when he called for fracking to be permitted to make the UK more self-sufficient.
Ministers halted fracking in England at the end of November 2019 following a series of confrontations between shale gas companies and communities who say the process is disruptive and dangerous, causing earth tremors.
Mr Mackinlay said the OGA order was ‘industrial vandalism’ and claimed ‘a global energy crisis’ was not the time to put the two wells permanently out of use, adding that capping them would cost site owners Cuadrilla £1 million.
With the Ukraine crisis contributing to surging household energy bills, nearly 40 MPs and peers in the Tory Net Zero Security Group are writing to the Prime Minister to urge him to stop the UK’s only two shale gas wells being concreted over within the next ten days
Map showing potential areas of shale oil and gas and licensed areas (pictured)
He was backed by Lee Anderson – one of the Red Wall MPs whose voters will be hit hard by the rise in energy bills – who said a ban on fracking was ‘total lunacy’ in the light of the events in Ukraine.
Mr Anderson, the MP for Ashfield, said: ‘At a time of increasing insecurity over fuel supplies, we should be using the huge shale gas resources right under our feet.
‘I firmly believe fracking can lead to lower fuel prices, but we have effectively banned it on spurious safety grounds. Despite bogus claims to the contrary, fracking can quite safely take place without causing earthquakes or polluting aquifers.
‘Of course, some people will never accept it. Mention the word ‘fracking’ and they faint. But usually, it’s the same sort of people who have never had to worry about paying a gas bill.’
Labour MP Graham Stringer added: ‘Putin’s attack on Ukraine has exposed our vulnerability to the disruption of the supply of gas and oil. This need not be the case.
‘We have vast reserves of gas under our feet here in the North West and only half the oil under the North Sea has been extracted.
‘When asked, Government Ministers always claim that energy security is their top priority. Their actions tell a different story. Influenced by a combination of misguided environmental and emotional arguments, they have abandoned our security for virtue signalling.
‘It’s imperative that we focus more on our own energy resources. If we don’t, we will be permanently exposed to the uncertainties of the international energy market.’
Cuadrilla chief executive Francis Egan said it was ‘madness’ to concrete over the gas wells and described the limit of 0.5 on the Richter Scale for fracking activity as ‘ridiculous’ and the equivalent of ‘sitting down in your armchair’.
Mr Egan said the wells – which are not currently operational – were the ‘only two productive wells in the UK and once they are capped, they are basically gone for good’.
He added: ‘I would urge the Prime Minister to give us a stay of execution because, in the light of the awful events in Ukraine, we desperately need to rethink our approach to shale gas exploitation. It never made any sense to rule it out because, as I have always said, shale gas can be safely exploited.’
Mr Egan suggested the 0.5 seismic limit – set while Lib Dem Sir Ed Davey was Energy Secretary in the Coalition government – was effectively designed to make sure that no shale gas wells in the UK were ever brought into use. He added that as well as the prospect of lower fuel bills, shale gas production would yield billions in tax revenues for the Government.
He said: ‘But we will apparently be quite happy to import shale gas from the USA, which will create no jobs and yield no tax for the UK Government, but we’re not happy to use our own gas, which would. It is complete nonsense.’
But a Government source dismissed the calls, saying: ‘Fracking causes earthquakes, is hated by local communities, would take five to ten years to kick-start, and won’t even lower the price. We need to get real: Lancashire isn’t Texas, any shale gas we do find won’t be enough to lower the European price.’
Writing in today’s Mail on Sunday, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng says MPs calling for the return of fracking ‘misunderstand the situation we find ourselves in’.
Mr Kwarteng writes: ‘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… private companies are not going to sell the shale gas they produce to UK consumers below the market price.’
Switch to our own power supplies is a win-win for everyone – except Putin
By Kwasi Kwarteng for the Mail on Sunday
Mail on Sunday readers will have been horrified by the images emerging from Ukraine.
A paramedic striving in vain to revive a six-year-old girl injured during shelling. Women and children crossing the Polish border by foot, leaving their lives behind them.
Vladimir Putin is using every weapon at his disposal to diminish democracy.
In our defence of freedom and self-determination, we must use every tool available to stand up to Russian aggression.
Vladimir Putin is using every weapon at his disposal to diminish democracy
The UK Government has imposed crippling sanctions designed to devastate Russia’s economy and Putin’s inner circle. And the West’s punitive measures are visibly starting to bite, with the Russian economy heading for the rocks.
But there is one more step the West can take to hit Putin where it hurts: Russia’s wealth of natural resources.
For too long, Europe’s dependence on Russian gas has left the Continent vulnerable to blackmail and allowed Putin to pull strings. Russia is effectively weaponising its dominance over the European gas supply for political ends.
Fortunately, the UK is in no way dependent on Russian gas. But in light of the atrocities Putin has ordered, it is plain that even that tiny fraction – four per cent – is too much.
That is why the Government is urgently reviewing what can be done to drive this down even further, while maintaining our strong security of supply.
That said, like the rest of Europe, we are vulnerable to rising gas prices set by international markets. After all, Russia is the world’s largest exporter of pipeline gas. Anything the Kremlin says or does can drive up the price of gas.
Every decision Russia takes – from limiting gas exports to starting a war – sends the global market into a frenzy, and we all pay for it.
For as long as we depend on oil and gas – wherever it is from – we are all vulnerable to Putin’s malign influence on global markets.
The good news is, Russia can’t directly manipulate the price of renewable energy and nuclear power in the UK. And with gas prices at record highs, and the price of renewable energy plummeting, we need to accelerate our transition away from expensive gas.
Now, more than ever, we must focus on generating cheaper, cleaner power in Britain, for Britain. This is how we become energy independent in the long term.
That is why we are cracking on with annual renewable energy auctions to generate more offshore wind, solar and, importantly, tidal power to exploit our island nation status.
We are also reversing 30 years of drift on nuclear power. We are opening the first new power station in a generation, giving more cash for future projects such as Sizewell C, and using the Nuclear Financing Bill to unblock financial obstacles.
In the longer term we also need to look at hydrogen – the new super fuel – to combat Russian gas.
Last year, we set out our plan to kick-start an entire British low-carbon hydrogen industry from scratch by the end of the decade. With the global low-carbon hydrogen economy set to be worth £530 billion by 2050, this booming market is ours for the taking.
Importantly, these clean technologies will also give our industrial heartlands new leases of life, with millions of new, skilled jobs for British workers, while also cutting energy bills.
Switching to cheap, domestically generated power is a win-win for everyone – apart from Putin, who wants to sustain Europe’s dependence on Russia’s gas.
That’s why we must also urge our friends on the Continent to wean themselves off Russia’s supply by pursuing alternative gas suppliers and building up their own domestic clean energy systems.
Europe’s reliance on Russia’s gas supply has been an Achilles heel in the West’s sanctions regime.
For the sake of our security, we need to become more energy self-sufficient. We have to invest further in the areas we already excel at – such as offshore wind – while vigorously pursuing the technologies of tomorrow, from hydrogen to small modular reactors.
We also need to back North Sea oil and gas while we transition to cheap, clean power. It would be complete madness to turn off our domestic source of gas in such an uncertain world.
However, onshore fracking is very different. Those calling for its return misunderstand the situation we find ourselves in.
First, the UK has no gas supply issues. And 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.
Second, 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.
So given Russia is the dominant supplier of gas, and effectively controls the price – even the price of gas produced in the UK – we need to diversify our energy mix.
The most important priority for any government should be the safety and security of its people. Leaving Britain continually exposed to a market that can be manipulated by Putin or anyone else would be a complete dereliction of duty.
Vladimir Putin wishes to plunge Ukraine into darkness, but he underestimates the strength of freedom’s flame
In the UK, we will protect our citizens by ensuring we have a homegrown supply of clean energy, which means we are not dependent on a foreign country to keep our homes warm and lit.
Creating a homegrown energy system and ensuring we are not held hostage by energy prices set by international markets is not just a question of keeping cash in the UK, or tackling climate change. It is a matter of national security.
Vladimir Putin wishes to plunge Ukraine into darkness, but he underestimates the strength of freedom’s flame.
As the UK’s Business and Energy Secretary, it is my personal mission to ensure Britain’s clean energy independence so we can weaken Putin’s malign grip and influence on the West.
Details of how to donate to the Mail Force Ukraine appeal (pictured)