The return of fracking will not ease the UK’s energy crisis and could cause “serious” environmental damage, the head of a government watchdog is warning.
He dismissed the claim, made by some government ministers, that the soaring price of gas had created an opportunity for the UK to exploit its reserves through fracking.
“The price of gas isn’t fixed by whether we get it out of British fields or the North Sea, the price of gas is set internationally,” Lord Deben said.
“If you’re really trying to deal with the cost of living crisis, these are not the solutions,” he said – but a drive to insulate Britain’s notoriously energy-leaking homes was.
Lord Deben,a former Tory environment minister, told The Times: “My only advice is one has to look at the facts. The facts are that you have to deal with fracking in an environmentally sensible way or otherwise you have serious results.”
The three-year moratorium will be lifted despite a government-commissioned study being set to warn that huge uncertainty about the risks of triggering earthquakes remain.
A leaked report by the British Geological Survey (BGS) said there are still “significant existing knowledge gaps” when identifying sites that may be able to cope with magnitude 3 tremors.
Fracking firms are pushing for earthquake limits to be relaxed and want local objections to be bypassed, arguing it will only be possible to kickstart the industry with looser rules.
They should include speeding up planning permission by allowing ministers, instead of local authorities, to approve projects as “nationally significant infrastructure”, the industry body said.
And it wants the rules requiring drilling to stop if it causes tremors of 0.5 or more on the Richter scale to be ripped up, arguing tremors at this level occur naturally and are often imperceptible.
Scotland and Wales have rejected fracking, which involves releasing natural gas from deep underground by blasting a mixture of water and chemicals into shale rock deposits.
But the The Independent was told that five shale gas companies – INEOS, Cuadrilla, Aurora, Egdon and iGas – are keen to pursue development in England.
Lord Deben said a shift away from fossil fuels since previous attempts to frack in the UK meant the “world has changed” and firms risked ending up with worthless “stranded assets”.
He urged Liz Truss to present the cost of living crisis as an opportunity for a “win-win” that would address the climate emergency as well, through accelerated renewable energy and home insulation.