Ministers “bowing” to backbenchers with new fracking review, says Ed Miliband

Katie Neame
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Ed Miliband has accused ministers of “bowing to their own backbenchers” by launching a study into the impacts of fracking two days before the government is due to publish its long-awaited energy strategy.

Kwasi Kwarteng today announced that the government has commissioned the British Geological Survey to assess the latest evidence on fracking and produce a report by the end of June.

The Department for Business said the aim of the report is to assess whether “any progress has been made in the scientific understanding which underpins government policy and to allow ministers to consider next steps”.

In response, Labour’s Shadow Climate Change and Net Zero Secretary said: “Rather than bowing to their own backbenchers, the government should be coming forward with real action to ensure energy security and tackle the cost-of-living crisis.

“The government itself concluded that fracking is unsafe and will not help our energy security or cut bills. And fracking is strongly opposed by local communities.

“Labour would turbocharge the drive to clean, home-grown renewable and nuclear power to provide energy security, cut bills and tackle the climate crisis.”

Kwarteng said the government has “always been, and always will be, guided by the science on shale gas”. He noted that fracking in England “would take years of exploration and development”, adding that it “would certainly have no effect on prices in the near term”.

“However, there will continue to be an ongoing demand for oil and gas over the coming decades as we transition to cheap renewable energy and new nuclear power. In light of Putin’s criminal invasion of Ukraine, it is absolutely right that we explore all possible domestic energy sources,” the Business Secretary said.

Fracking is the process of drilling into the earth and directing a highly-pressurised mixture of chemicals into rock to extract shale gas. The government announced a moratorium on the use of the process in 2019.

The Conservatives said in their 2019 election manifesto that the party would not support the extraction of shale gas “unless the science shows categorically that it can be done safely”.

Some Tory MPs have called for the ban on fracking to be lifted. Brexit opportunities minister Jacob Rees-Mogg recently said shale gas offers “quite an interesting opportunity” and compared the risks to “a rock fall in a disused coal mine”.

The Net Zero Scrutiny Group of Conservative MPs wrote a letter to the Prime Minister in February calling for fracking in the UK to be restarted and claiming that shale deposits in the north of England could offer “at least 50 years of cheap and sustainable gas”.

Tory peer David Frost also signed the letter. He argued that extracting shale gas would give the UK a “competitive and reliable source of energy”, telling The Telegraph: “If we don’t produce it here, as we have seen, all we do is import gas from elsewhere, and push up overall carbon emissions too.”

Director of campaigns and policy at countryside charity CPRE Tom Fyans called the government decision today “absurd” as fracking “would make no difference whatsoever to the energy crisis” and it “would take years for any gas to be pumped from the ground”.

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