Fracking review ‘will undermine trust if risk mitigation factors ignored’

·3-min read
The Cuadrilla fracking site at Preston New Road, Lancashire - Peter Byrne/PA Wire
The Cuadrilla fracking site at Preston New Road, Lancashire - Peter Byrne/PA Wire

Kwasi Kwarteng's review of fracking will undermine public trust if it ignores evidence that the risks associated with shale gas production can be "managed and mitigated", more than 35 Conservative MPs and peers have warned.

In a letter to the Business Secretary, parliamentarians including Lord Frost, the former Cabinet minister, and Craig Mackinlay, who chairs the Net Zero Scrutiny Group of MPs, point to the findings of a government-funded study that concluded the earthquake risk from fracking is no worse than coal mining and can be mitigated.

The intervention highlights fears among some Tory backbenchers that the review, which followed significant pressure for a reversal of the fracking ban, could amount to a "whitewash".

Boris Johnson has come under pressure from MPs and some ministers to lift the ban as part of efforts to increase Britain's homegrown energy supply.

In a letter to the British Geological Survey (BGS) ordering the review, Mr Kwarteng said the moratorium had been imposed in 2019 following "seismicity" experienced by residents near a fracking site in Lancashire.

He added: "The reasons for that pause – the difficulty in predicting the size, duration, magnitude, and timing of seismic events induced by fracking – have not gone away, and to date we have not identified any new, compelling evidence that would support a reassessment of the current position."

His request to the BGS included for the body to investigate "where there have been new developments in the science of hydraulic fracturing – in particular whether there are new techniques in use which could reduce the risk and magnitude of seismic events".

But the MPs fear the government-funded study that appears to shed new light on how the risks of fracking can be addressed has been underplayed and could be overlooked by the review.

The backbenchers, also including Steve Baker, the former Brexit minister, and Esther McVey, the former work and pensions secretary, said: "Since November 2019, the government has given over £6.7 million to the Unconventional Hydrocarbons in the UK project to significantly improve the scientific evidence base on shale gas as a potential energy resource for the UK.

"It has produced a series of reports on this already and, in fact, the Business Department (BEIS) is itself an ambassador for this organisation and its output.

"Over 20 of the UK's finest research institutions and universities have already been working alongside BEIS on this project, and earlier this month its spokesperson confirmed that the science shows 'there are methods to assess, manage, and mitigate' the risks associated with hydraulic fracturing.

"This is 'new' science, which was not available to policymakers in 2019, but it is not the first time the science has concluded that the risks associated with fracking are minimal.

"If this evidence is not included in the review, we are concerned that it would jeopardise public trust in democracy and Government's ability to handle scientific advice. It is more important than ever – as this country looks to reach net zero by 2050 – that Whitehall works to earn the faith of the British public."

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