Great Britain's new prime minister blasted for 'destructive' decision ending fracking moratorium
Conservative U.K. Prime Minister Liz Truss' Thursday decision to lift a 2019 moratorium on hydraulic fracturing for gas was swiftly decried by climate campaigners, British politicians, and people across the United Kingdom.
"We will end the moratorium on extracting our huge reserves of shale, which could get gas flowing in as soon as six months, where there is local support," the new prime minister said in a speech to Parliament about her broader energy policy, unveiled amid soaring costs tied to Russia's invasion of Ukraine and fossil fuel industry war profiteering.
In response, Oil Change International senior campaigner Silje Lundberg declared that "long gone are the days of lofty COP26 speeches about climate ambition," referencing the global summit for parties to the Paris agreement held in Glasgow, Scotland last year.
"By doubling down on its fossil fuel production, the U.K. has given up any claim to be a credible climate leader," Lundberg said. "The decision to lift the fracking ban will do nothing to assuage the crisis that millions of households are facing as it would take years before any significant production would happen, without any impacts on energy prices. Local communities in fracking areas will have to pay the double price of high energy prices and local pollution."
"It will, however, make the climate crisis worse and further entrench the U.K.'s dependence on the very same fossil fuels that are at the heart of the current social and economic crisis," she continued. "There is an urgent need for sensible short-term solutions for energy efficiency in homes, reducing nonessential energy use, and accelerating the rollout of readily available alternatives to replace fossil gas and oil. More fossil fuels is not the solution to a fossil-fueled crisis."
Fracking is a process that involves injecting a mix of chemicals, sand, and water into the ground to extract gas. The practice has generated concerns about not only the global climate, but also impacts on communities where it occurs, in terms of both human health and the environment.
Friends of the Earth campaigner Danny Gross said that "fracking is a false solution to the cost-of-living crisis. The most effective way to bring down our bills and boost energy security for good is to invest in cheap, clean renewables and a nationwide home insulation and energy efficiency program."
"Anyone who thinks that bringing back fracking will solve the energy crisis is living in cloud-cuckoo-and," he argued. "Fracking is a failed industry that's unpopular and unfeasible."
Both Gross and Georgia Whitaker, an oil and gas campaigner for Greenpeace U.K., pointed out that—as she put it—all the industry achieved in the decade before the moratorium was "two holes in a muddy field, traffic, noise, earthquakes, and enormous controversy."
The fracking ban was imposed in 2019—under Conservative leadership—following a series of earthquakes in Lancashire, which has the nation's only shale gas wells.
After a series of earthquakes around Cuadrilla Resources' Preston New Road fracking operation and the Oil and Gas Authority concluded it could not rule out future seismic activity, the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy said that "further consents for fracking will not be granted" unless the industry "can reliably predict and control tremors."
The BBC noted that "in their 2019 election manifesto, the Conservatives said they would not support it 'unless the science shows categorically that it can be done safely.'"
Gross said that "by breaking its manifesto promise on fracking, the government is showing that it's completely out of touch with communities across the country. They have already defeated fracking once and they're ready to do so again."
Whitaker similarly warned that "communities who have this nonsense inflicted on them in the name of an out-of-date ideology will be wondering who their elected representatives are really representing."
Lancashire resident Nick Moore told the BCC that he was "absolutely disgusted" by the decision to lift the ban. The 67-year-old shared that activity at the Preston New Road site caused cracks in the walls of his home—for which Cuadrilla took responsibility, fixing the damage and compensating him.
The Guardian reported that Tina Louise Rothery, a 60-year-old with the women-led group calling themselves the Nanas, returned on Thursday to the Preston New Road site—where she's been arrested seven times—in her group's signature yellow and vowed to involve others, including the protest movement Extinction Rebellion (XR), in the renewed fight against fracking.
"It won't just be frontline stuff. We will oppose this with legal challenges, planning applications. We will call on XR and the unions and the lines to blockade things. We will pull out all the stops," she explained. "And this time we won't settle for a moratorium either. We're just going to keep on hammering this until we get the proper ban on fracking."
Rothery said that she doesn't anticipate local support for fracking, adding that "it's dangling a precious, precious thing, which is a reduction in your energy bills, in a town like Blackpool that is among the most poverty-stricken places in the country—that isn't local support, that's desperation."
Nick Danby, the spokesperson for Frack Free Lancashire, told the BBC that it appears he may be "out of retirement and back campaigning." He also doesn't anticipate local support for the extraction.
Danby, who lives near another site Cuadrilla wanted to frack, added that "there is nothing to indicate fracking can be done safely" and Truss had "thrown our fate to the wind."
The Independent pointed out Thursday that when Chancellor of the Exchequer Kwasi Kwarteng was business secretary earlier this year, he commissioned a report from the British Geological Survey "into whether there were any new scientific developments that could reduce the risk and magnitude of seismic events."
In March, while serving as business secretary, Kwarteng wrote that those advocating for the return of onshore fracking "misunderstand the situation we find ourselves in," given that "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," the Tory added in his piece for The Mail on Sunday. "And with the best will in the world, private companies are not going to sell the shale gas they produce to U.K. consumers below the market price. They are not charities, after all."
Ed Miliband, the shadow climate minister and former Labour leader, similarly told Sky News Thursday that market prices mean fracked gas extracted in the U.K. wouldn't be any cheaper. He also said lifting the moratorium was "another case of ideology trumping common sense."
"There's only one way out of being in the grip of the geopolitics of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and others, and that is a clean energy sprint," according to Milliband. "I'm afraid the government seems to be setting its face against that."
The Independent highlighted critiques from other political figures:
Caroline Lucas, the Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, said the decision was 'a massive kick in the teeth for [the] vast majority of communities who don't want fracking, a disaster for our climate, and a measure that will make absolutely zero difference to the cost of energy bills.'
Leader of the Liberal Democrats Ed Davey said lifting the ban on fracking would do nothing to change the sky-high price of energy. '
The government should be focusing its attention on solar and wind power, the cheapest and most popular forms of energy,' he said. 'Alongside insulation, investment in renewable power is the best way to bring down energy prices and protect Britain's energy supply in the long term.'
While the death of Queen Elizabeth II on Thursday directed some attention away from the new energy plan, critics also called out Truss—who worked for Shell over two decades ago—for refusing to support a new windfall profits tax targeting industry giants.
"By ruling out a windfall tax, Liz Truss, in one of her first acts as prime minister, has written a blank check to the oil and gas giants making £170 billion in excess profits, and the British people will foot the bill," said Milliband. "Every penny her government refuses to raise in windfall taxes is money that they will be loading onto the British people for years to come."
Overall, "the government's energy plan is farcical in its detachment from reality," said Mike Childs, head of science, policy, and research at Friends of the Earth. "It does nothing to tackle the root cause of the energy crisis—our reliance on costly, polluting fossil fuels—and only lines the pockets of the oil and gas companies driving the cost-of-living and climate emergencies."
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