Hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as ‘fracking’ involves the use of chemicals (some dangerous) with vast amounts of water and sand at high pressure to fracture the rock surrounding oil and gas, enabling them to be extracted.
At one time, it appeared that fracking might provide a significant addition to the UK’s energy resources. Supporters said extracting the gas would provide a cheap, cleaner alternative to conventional gas and oil.
Not only an additional source, but a domestic resource, important for both economic and security reasons. It was claimed, quite justifiably, that this would cut the UK’s reliance on gas and oil imports and would create high-skilled and well-paid jobs in parts of Britain which were falling behind economically.
I have to admit that I was initially tempted to support fracking trials as long as they were undertaken with a number of tough conditions to minimise any environmental risks both below ground – preventing earthquakes, water contamination etc – and above ground – preventing air pollution, chemical emissions, unacceptable traffic implications.
Of course, the Conservative government wasn’t prepared to agree this essential set of conditions. It became clear that it was determined to press on regardless of the increasing evidence suggesting that fracking in the UK could not be conducted without unacceptable environmental impacts. The first earthquakes were recorded in Blackpool eight years ago.
There were a number of Conservative MPs who opposed fracking, not because they were concerned by the environmental issues but because of the level of vocal opposition to fracking proposals in their own constituencies. Boris Johnson wasn’t even in this group. In fact, the complete opposite.
Our current Prime Minister was one of fracking’s biggest supporters both in Parliament and in a whole string of newspaper articles he wrote and speeches he made whilst heavily backing the initiative to press ahead.
“It is glorious news for humanity. It doesn’t need the subsidy of wind power. I don’t know whether it will work in Britain, but we should get fracking right away.”
Boris Johnson, December 2012
“We must stop pussy-footing around and get fracking. Even if we have hundreds of fracking pads, they are nothing like as ugly as windmills, and they can be dismantled as soon as the gas is extracted.”
Boris Johnson, September 2013
“Give the British people their mineral rights and get fracking at last.”
Boris Johnson, June 2014
“If reserves of shale can be exploited in London, we should leave no stone un-turned, or un-fracked, in the cause of keeping the lights on”.
Boris Johnson, July 2014
In 2016, in progress far too slow to meet Mr Johnson’s demands, the Conservative government announced that it expected that 20 wells would be sunk by 2020. In fact, only three have been started, all in Lancashire.
There has been constant Labour opposition to this initiative which simply failed to require the essential conditions and constraints, let alone take account of increasing public opposition and the bad news coming from the first drillings, with earthquakes and tremors at unacceptable levels.
Operations at fracking firm Cuadrilla’s site in Lancashire were suspended and never restarted. Following investigations, the Oil and Gas Authority – the industry watchdog – said it could not guarantee further fracking “would meet the Government’s policy aims of ensuring it is safe, sustainable and of minimal disturbance to those living and working nearby”.
Thus, it was inevitable that the government would have to respond. Last week, Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom said:
“…I have concluded that we should put a moratorium on fracking in England with immediate effect.”
I’m neither cynical nor inappropriately suspicious, but I do have to draw your attention to two aspects of this announcement.
First, despite all the relevant information having been available for some time, the announcement was only made when it had already been decided to call a general election.
Secondly, the announcement did not refer to the ‘end of fracking’ – although that was how it was spun to the media by No 10 – it referred to a ‘moratorium on fracking’. Of course, a moratorium can be lifted just as quickly as it has been imposed.
Given Mr Johnson’s fracking predilection, his assiduous use of fake facts, and his tenuous connection with truth and consistency, we are allowed to be suspicious.