Liz Truss, thinks fracking can be supplying gas to the grid in just six months. This is as ridiculous as the rest of her energy plans.
Of course, the UK Government were elected in 2019 on a manifesto which said they would not support fracking. Truss, a former Shell employee, now says she supports fracking “where there is local support for it.” There is a rumour that this could involve a bribe of 25% off local gas bills, and the fracking industry has immediately said it need planning rules weakened and earthquake standards watered down if it is to restart operations.
Truss seems to be desperate to sound like her government has an energy plan, but is actually planning nothing to stop another cost of living crisis, instead backing far-off, ridiculously expensive nuclear power, more climate-wrecking oil and gas and the dead-end that is fracking. The two things that would really help – insulating people’s homes and replacing gas heating systems with heat pumps – are not on the agenda at all.
Kwasi Kwarteng, now Chancellor, said when he was UK energy secretary in a newspaper opinion piece in March that “those calling for [fracking’s] return misunderstand the situation we find ourselves in.” And that it would take up to a decade to produce meaningful amounts of gas and that this would still do nothing to reduce the price of gas to the consumer.
In the same month former energy minister Greg Hands told parliament that it would take years of exploration and development before commercial quantities of shale gas could be produced.
They were echoing the words of ex-BP chair, Lord Browne, who in 2013, when he was chair of fracking company Cuadrilla, admitted that fracking was unlikely to reduce the price of gas. In 2014 he said it would take five years and 20 to 40 fracking test wells to determine whether there was even a viable fracking industry in the UK.
Public opinion is nearly three to one against fracking and even among Tory voters, less than half think it is a good idea.
The protest groups which held up fracking last time long enough for it to get shut down for causing earthquakes is gearing up to take on the industry again. The environment groups who challenged fracking in court are looking at what legal cases they might bring this time.
Liz Truss’ announcement, widely reported as the restart of fracking in the UK, actually only applies to England. Fortunately for us, planning permission and other consents for fracking are devolved matters, so Scotland and Wales continue to prohibit fracking and Northern Ireland is moving in that direction. Even the Scottish Tories opposed fracking in their 2021 manifesto.
Even if you were not worried about the climate impact of yet more gas, the vast quantities of waste water that need to be treated and disposed of, the toxic chemicals used and released by fracking, the ever-growing evidence of health impacts for communities from low-birth weights to childhood leukaemia, the impact on house prices or the risk of earthquakes, fracking would still be a pointless gamble on small quantities of expensive gas that might be produced years hence.
A version of this blog appeared in the Scotsman newspaper on 15th September 2022.