Could the Conservative Party be the last man standing when it comes to promoting fracking in the UK? This week, Chancellor George Osborne reaffirmed the party’s pro-shale agenda, urging Britain not to “turn its back” on shale gas and to “get on with” fracking.
Osborne’s statement during Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions’ comes a week ahead of a crucial vote by councillors in Lancashire on whether to allow Cuadrilla to frack for the first time in the UK since 2011.
But the opinion amongst the opposition parties appears to be shifting, as Tim Farron and Andy Burnham – both favoured to win leadership of the Liberal Democrats and Labour, respectively – have called for shale gas drilling to be stopped.
Writing in the Huffington Post this week, Farron – who was among the 52 MPs who voted in favour of a moratorium on fracking in January – declared that his party had “got it wrong on fracking”.
Calling for the Lib Dems to “rethink” their approach, he argued that a debate is needed on whether the party should support a ban on fracking.
He wrote: “Shale gas will only have a future in the UK if we abandon, or significantly scale back, our climate targets – and that’s something that I hope every Liberal Democrat would oppose. I wish I could say the same about the Tories, but I’d be surprised if we don’t see them beginning to talk down the UK‘s climate objectives.”
He argued that to meet the UK’s Climate Change Act objectives we must decarbonise power generation almost entirely by 2030, noting that any large-scale extraction of shale gas is “a minimum of ten to fifteen years away”.
“If these targets mean anything, we shouldn’t be planning to use significant volumes of gas for power at all, regardless of its source,” he wrote.
This follows statements made by Burnham earlier this month to the Guardian calling for a moratorium.
Burnham, who is widely tipped to win the contest to replace Ed Miliband as Labour leader, said: “These things [licences] just seem to be handed out like confetti… Where is the evidence that it is safe to come and frack a place like this? No fracking should go ahead until we have much clearer evidence on the environmental impact.”
Both the Welsh Government and the Scottish National party (SNP), which holds the third largest number of seats in the London Parliament, have voiced support for a moratorium on fracking. In January, the SNP announced a moratorium on all fracking applications until a full examination of health and environmental impacts is conducted.
However, the fracking industry got a boost of support earlier this week as a local planning officer in Lancashire recommended that one of Cuadrilla’s sites should be approved ahead of next week’s planning application decision.
The officer said that fracking at the Little Plumpton site should go ahead while being subject to certain environmental conditions related to water and noise pollution. This reverses an anti-fracking draft ruling made in January. However, Cuadrilla’s Roseacre Wood site should be rejected, he said, due to the impact on local traffic.
AJ Lucas, which owns 45 percent of Cuadrilla, saw its share price soar by 28 percent following the Lancashire officer’s recommendation.
Arnall told the Australian Financial Review: “We’ve put tens of millions of dollars into this exercise: we are true believers.”
It seems all of AJ Lucas’s eggs are in one basket with Cuadrilla described as its “biggest growth project”; this is due to its other businesses in mining and drilling suffering from the downturn in Australian resources investment.
Photo: Google Creative Commons