Russia: UK fracking plans 'plays into Putin' says McCarthy
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Liz Truss’ own net zero advisor has warned investors not to support fracking and instead favour renewable energy, a huge difference from the Prime Minister’s stance. It comes after Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg officially announced the lifting of the 2019 ban last week, which he said would help to protect the UK from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “weaponization of energy”.
The moratorium on fracturing rock to release shale gas trapped within it was put in place in 2019 following a series of earth tremors.
The controversial practice has received huge opposition from local residents worried about the disruption from the tremors, to experts who claim it will take years for the gas to come onto the market and will still be expensive as the supplies are set to be sold on volatile international markets, the critics claim.
Climate campaigners also oppose the practice, arguing that it will emit more carbon into the atmosphere and prevent the UK from reaching crucial climate targets amid an urgent crisis. Meanwhile, the UK’s fracking firm Caudrilla has said that the Government’s support for fracking is merely a “political gesture” and “no chance of fracking in the UK in the near-term.”
Chris Skidmore, who has been appointed as Ms Truss’ net zero advisor, warned that this signalled a “death blow” to the industry, agreeing that fracking would be a “non-starter”. It comes after Mr Skidmore was ordered to carry out a four-month review of the UK’s 2050 net zero emissions target.
In an interview for the Financial Times, he warned against investors “potentially investing in a [fracking] industry that will leave you with stranded assets”, stressing that it is far less risky to invest in greener, renewable energy.
This appears completely at odds with both Ms Truss and Mr Rees-Mogg, who appears to be fully behind the practice and has even claimed that groups opposing it are funded by Putin’s regime.
Responding to Labour MP Cat Smith, who argued there is “no public support for fracking”, the Energy Minister said: “I would also note that there have been stories widely reported that some of the opposition to… fracking has been funded by Mr Putin’s regime”. Labour’s Shadow Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband has called the claim an “outrageous slur”.
The “outrageous” claim first surfaced back in 2014 when Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who was NATO Cheif at the time, said: “I have met allies who can report that Russia, as part of their sophisticated information and disinformation operations, engaged actively with so-called non-governmental organisations – environmental organisations working against shale gas – to maintain European dependence on imported Russian gas.”
But the internal fracking disagreements within the Conservative Party may not end with the new net zero advisor. While the lifting of the moratorium was hailed by many rightwingers within the party, Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng previously signalled his opposition when he was Business Secretary, Mr Rees-Mogg’s current role.
Mr Kwarteng previously tweeted: “If we lifted the fracking moratorium, it would take up to a decade to extract sufficient volumes – and it would come at a high cost for communities and our precious countryside.”
This is the same issue that many opponents of fracking have voiced, and Mr Kwarteng is not the only Tory to have made note of this.
Conservative MP Alok Sharma, who was also President of the COP26 climate summit, has tweeted: “Even if you were extracting more right now…the price that’s going to be generated is going to be the international wholesale gas price.”
He added that the “idea that…that will impact the price of wholesale gas internationally, I don’t think that is realistic”
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But supporters of fracking claim that boosting the UK’s own domestic supplies will prevent it from purchasing expensive foreign gas, the price of which has shot up due to Russia largely cutting off Europe’s supplies.
Mr Rees-Mogg claims the country needs to ramp up its energy security, partly by drilling for shale gas, but he also stressed the country needs to explore “all available avenues”.
He tweeted last week: “That means increasing renewables – but it also means making the most of our own resources, rather than relying on imports.”
Now, he plans to issue around 100 licenses for shale gas extraction, which will “see new projects developed where there is local support, and a new oil and gas licensing round will be launched in early October to get more home-grown energy on stream urgently”, Mr Rees-Mogg wrote in the Telegraph.
BEIS and Number 10 have been contacted for comment.
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