"Lancashire needs fracking back as much as it does Boris Johnson': County politicians blast reversal of fracking ban
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The criticism came before the announcement of the Queen’s death and followed new Prime Minister Liz Truss’s declaration that a moratorium on drilling for shale gas - introduced three years ago following earth tremors in the vicinity of the Preston New Road fracking site in Fylde - would come to an end. However, she also suggested that extraction would go ahead only where there was "local support for it".
Azhar Ali, the leader of the opposition Labour group on Lancashire County Council, said that Ms. Truss would be waiting a long time for that to materialise - and warned that any purported benefits of fracking to the UK’s energy security were an equally distant prospect.
"I cannot imagine that there is going to be community support for fracking anywhere - it’s political suicide, but more than that, the damage to the environment is huge.
“There are questions around health and wellbeing, there have been tremors and mini quakes - and I can see communities coming together across the North of England to oppose it.
“It’s also going to take years to produce the volumes of gas that are required to bring to the market.
“You've got wind and solar [power] which could create a lot more [energy] a lot quicker. We need jam today - not in 10 years’ time,” County Cllr Ali said.
The PM had told the Commons on Thursday that shale gas could begin "flowing as soon as six months from now".
Fracking at Cuadrilla’s controversial Little Plumpton site, near Blackpool, was suspended in August 2019 after a series of tremors - the largest of which measured 2.9 on the Richter scale.
The energy firm had to suspend drilling each time a tremor of greater than 0.5 magnitude was recorded. But the occurrence of a much bigger seismic event saw fracking at the plot suspended indefinitely by regulators.
In November that year, Boris Johnson's government then moved to put an indefinite - but, theoretically, temporary - prohibition on the process after the publication of analysis by the Oil and Gas Authority, which found that it was not currently possible accurately to predict the probability or magnitude of earthquakes linked to fracking operations.
The leader of the Green Party group at County Hall, Gina Dowding - who regularly took part in the long-running protests against fracking which became a permanent fixture outside the Preston New Road site for three years - said that the government's u-turn flew in the face of the needs of the UK and the wider world.
“It is wrong-headed for our new Prime Minister to lift the fracking ban - on so many counts. There is no support for it [from] the vast majority of the population - including MPs from her own party - the economics don't add up [and there is] the reality of climate chaos and the impact on local communities.
"The facts are that it would take many years and thousands of wells in order for fracking to make any meaningful contribution to the UK energy mix and, even if that were to happen, gas produced domestically would not lower the price.
"The promise of jobs is an empty one. Far more - and more sustainable - jobs are being generated by renewables.
"The best way to create energy security in the face of rising gas prices is to wean ourselves off it as fast as possible.
"The effects of climate change are clearly visible - catastrophic flooding in Pakistan [and] record droughts in Europe just this summer. To launch a new fossil fuel industry is nothing short of madness," added County Cllr Dowding.
Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrat county councillor for Preston West, John Potter, said that fracking would “bring no benefit to the people of Lancashire". He pointed out that the new chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, had noted earlier this year that additional UK energy production - including from fracking - would not affect the wholesale market price of gas.
County Cllr Potter said: "Even if there was a short-term benefit - which there won't be - the energy crisis has shown us that we need a long-term solution away from fossil fuels.
"This country needs a fracking comeback as much as we need a Boris Johnson leadership comeback. Both were mistakes that should stay in the dustbin of history," County Cllr Potter said.
In March, the North Sea Transition Authority said that it was withdrawing the notice it had previously issued to Cuadrilla requiring it to plug and abandon its two shale gas exploration wells in Little Plumpton. It ordered instead that they be temporarily plugged and suspended until at least the end of June 2023.
Reacting to Liz Truss’s announcement of an end to the fracking moratorium on Wednesday, Cuadrilla CEO Francis Egan said it was “the right call”.
"This is an entirely sensible decision and recognises that maximising the UK’s domestic energy supply is vital if we are going to overcome the ongoing energy crisis and reduce the risk of it recurring in the future.
“The last few months have highlighted the risks associated with ever increasing reliance on expensive, uncertain, and higher emission gas imports. Without the strong measures set out today, the UK was set to import over two thirds of its gas by the end of the decade, exposing the British public and businesses to further risk of supply shortage and price hikes down the line.
"Any rational analysis of UK energy supply, including those put forward by the Climate Change Committee, recognise that our transition to net zero will require the continued use of gas until at least 2050. Today’s announcement sets the foundation for us to move towards gas self-sufficiency, and not be reliant on the whims of dictators, or the vagaries of international supply lines and prices.
A thriving shale gas industry will drive job creation across the North of England, generate much-needed tax revenues for central and local government and benefit local communities financially,” Mr. Egan said.