Campaigners are claiming that the arguments for fracking are “toppling like dominoes” after the government appeared to backtrack not once, but twice last week over its commitment to the controversial industry.
Proceed with caution
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) released two separate reports. And while one of them referred [pdf, p14] to shale gas extraction (or fracking, as it’s commonly known) as having the “potential” to play a role in the UK’s future energy requirements, the other report ignored it altogether.
First off was the BEIS Gas Security of Supply report. It evaluated [pdf, p3] the “long term security of one of our critical energy sources”. And regarding fracking, its approach was cautious. The report said [pdf, p14] that:
The development of shale gas could provide a valuable new source of gas for the GB market… Whilst the government is optimistic about the potential for shale gas in the UK, given the industry is currently in an exploratory stage, it is not yet known how much of the UK shale gas resource will ultimately be recoverable.
The BEIS would not include fracking in its gas supply forecasts, to ensure [pdf, p14] that its estimate on UK gas potential was “conservative”. But it was still positive about fracking, noting that [pdf, p24] it:
could reduce reliance on imports, have the potential to bring economic benefits by rebalancing the economy, and would increase the diversity of supply available to the GB market.
But the second report from BEIS last week left out fracking completely.
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How clean is fracking?
The government’s Clean Growth Strategy detailed [pdf, p12] its goals of increasing economic growth while decreasing carbon emissions. It laid out [pdf, pp13-19] 50 “policies and proposals” which it believes will help the UK meet its obligations under the Paris Climate Agreement. It also applies to the UK’s own legislation to reduce CO2 emissions; specifically the 2050 target, which is the government’s plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 80% of 1990 levels by 2050. The Labour government built the target into law via the Climate Change Act 2008.
Some of the BEIS proposals include:
- Develop world leading Green Finance capabilities [pdf, p13].
- Invest around £162m in research and innovation in Energy, Resource and Process efficiency, including up to £20m to encourage switching to lower carbon fuels [pdf, p15].
- End the sale of new conventional petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040 [pdf, p16].
- Phase out the use of unabated coal to produce electricity by 2025 [pdf, p17].
But while the report repeatedly mentions nuclear [pdf, p17], solar [pdf, p9], wind [pdf, p27], hydrogen and bioenergy [pdf, p55], and briefly tidal [pdf, p101], it fails to mention shale or fracking once.
Environmental campaigners have leaped on this as a sign that fracking is proving nonviable. Steve Mason from the group Frack Free United told The Canary:
This is getting ridiculous. All the so-called arguments for fracking are toppling like dominoes. The evidence is stacked so high against the industry, only their corporate muscle keeps fracking on the agenda. This Tory government is backing fracking and forging on with a ludicrous dirty energy policy. It is time for them to wake up and listen to their own reports, the voice of the public in areas under threat and halt all fracking activity now.
He also pointed to another report published last week, from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR). It noted [pdf, p43] that fracking:
has garnered significant opposition from local communities and may be too environmentally risky to proceed with.
Also, it laid out conditions [pdf, p44] that it believes should be met “if shale gas is to go ahead”.
No fracking way
The Canary asked BEIS why it had not included fracking in its Clean Growth Strategy. It said it was not going to comment on The Canary‘s request.
But concerns about fracking are over-arching. They range from polluted drinking water and earthquakes to its contribution to carbon emissions. What makes it such a hot topic, though, is the public anger it provokes, witnessed at sites such as Preston New Road and Kirby Misperton. So with certain government departments and thinktanks ‘cooling’ somewhat to the idea, this will embolden campaigners to keep up the pressure against fracking in the UK.
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