Energy crisis has led UK to 'foothills of recession' says expert
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Housing minister Stuart Andrew has given the green light for three years of exploratory drilling at a site near the edge of the Surrey Hills. It is in the South West Surrey constituency of former health secretary Jeremy Hunt, who strongly opposes it. Campaigners and the Liberal Democrats have slammed the project over fears it will cause harm to the area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB).
It was also rejected by the Tory-run Surrey county council, but a subsequent public inquiry recommended it should go ahead.
Now the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has given it the go-ahead.
Greenpeace said ministers had an “unhealthy obsession with finding new fossil fuels”.
Its UK policy director, Doug Parr, added: “With this decision the government is completely undermining local democracy, the planning laws that are supposed to protect our designated landscapes and the climate crisis in one fell swoop.”
Tom Fyans of CPRE, the countryside charity, said: “Approving the drilling of a gas well in the Surrey countryside is an absurd decision that’s guaranteed to provoke fury and despair. It’s extraordinary, given the urgent need to wean ourselves off fossil fuels, that the government sees fit to greenlight a gas field and damage the setting of an area of outstanding natural beauty.”
He added: “Given the scale of opposition to this plan, with the local council, local MP and local people all united in anger, it is hard to see how the project can go ahead without mass protests.”
Sir Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat leader, said that the government had made a “reckless decision which risks doing irreparable damage to our treasured countryside”.
Mr Andrew’s decision accepted that “the proposal would result in harm to the landscape character and appearance of the area and degrade the qualities of the setting of the AONB”.
But, he said that “the weight given to this harm is tempered by the short-term nature of the proposals”.
The Government report also accepted that there had been a “failure to demonstrate the site has been selected to minimise adverse impacts” and that there could be “harm to local businesses”.
Despite this, it concluded that “exploration and appraisal are a necessary part of mineral development and without it, the currently acknowledged benefits of production cannot be realised”.
It added that there is “a reasonable likelihood of confirming a viable resource for extraction” in the drilling.
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It comes as the Government is reportedly looking at options to include natural gas as a “green” option for investors in the face of the energy crisis.
Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng is said to be keen for drilling for gas in the North Sea is reclassified by his department and the Treasury as “environmentally sustainable”.
Extracting and burning natural gas significantly increases carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, green campaigners have warned.
But experts and officials – including the European Commission last year – have endorsed natural gas as a “transitional fuel” that they say can bridge the gap between coal and oil.
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