Conservative MPs warned on Thursday of a public backlash after the British government lifted a three-year moratorium on natural gas fracking in England.
Jacob Rees-Moggbusiness secretary, said the UK was committed to becoming a net energy exporter by 2040 and argued the country must take every opportunity to boost energy security following Russia’s decision to cut gas supplies to Europe.
“In the light [President Vladimir] Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and the weaponization of energy, strengthening our energy security is an absolute priority,” Rees-Mogg said.
“To get there, we’re going to have to explore all the avenues available to us through solar, wind, oil and gas production. So it is right that we have lifted the hiatus to realize the potential sources of domestic gas.”
But the plan has met with resistance, reflecting widespread skepticism about the nascent industry in the UK, where many attempts to launch a domestic offshore drilling campaign have failed.
While Rees-Mogg claimed it was “sheer stupidity” to oppose shale gas drilling, members of his own party were among the first to oppose the government’s plan to lift the moratorium.
Mark Menzies, Conservative MP for Fylde, said: “There is nothing Luddite about the people of Lancashire or Fylde.”
Sir Greg Knight, the Tory MP for East Yorkshire, argued that it was impossible to predict seismic activity, according to the British Geological Survey, a publicly funded institute, which said in a report on Thursday that there was “limited” information about the earthquake risks associated with fracking. .
“Is he?” [Rees-Mogg] aware that public safety is not the currency some of us choose to speculate with? Knight said.
Senior government officials, including the new chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng, have criticized fracking in the past. In the spring, Kwarteng warned that “it will take up to ten years to extract sufficient volumes [of gas] — and would come at a high cost to communities and our precious landscape,” even after the ban is lifted.
Meanwhile, Rees-Mogg antagonized MPs in the House of Commons by repeating baseless claims that anti-fracking groups received funding from Russia: “Part of the opposition to fracking was funded by the Putin regime,” the business secretary said.
Ed Miliband, the shadow climate secretary, described the comments as “disgraceful and disgraceful” and said they lacked hard evidence.
The energy industry still has doubts about whether the UK will be able to scale up fracking given the amount of public skepticism and unanswered questions about the associated risk of seismic activity.
The Conservative Party has consistently argued that fracking will only happen where there is “local support”, a condition Liz Truss pledged during her leadership campaign.
However, ministers could try to circumvent public opposition by labeling the factions as nationally significant infrastructure projects, according to a Guardian newspaper report. But one official played down the likelihood, saying it would be “inconsistent” with the government’s stance on the need for local support.
A YouGov poll in May showed 27 percent of the population were in favor of shale gas development – up from 19 percent before the energy crisis.
A moratorium on fracking was imposed in 2019 after Cuadrilla’s shale drill triggered a series of earthquakes, including one that measured 2.9 on the Richter scale when it attempted to develop a site near Blackpool, Lancashire.
Rees-Mogg told the BBC on Wednesday that the seismic limits for fracking were “too low” and would need to be changed from the 0.5 threshold on the Richter scale that would trigger a halt to activity.
The British Geological Survey has suggested that there is an argument for increasing seismic limits under the so-called ‘traffic light’ system, with a higher limit set for ‘amber’ when operators are to suspend operations.
The government also confirmed on Thursday its support for the launch of a round of North Sea oil and gas licensing expected in early October.
It will be the first since 2019-20, after the government suspended licensing in 2021 to propose a climate test to ensure new permits are only granted “on the basis that they are consistent with the UK’s commitments to change climate”.
Climate groups described the test as “insignificant” after it was published on Thursday, saying it was only informative and therefore “non-binding”. [ministers] to a given result’.