Fracking in UK following in the footsteps of Trump, says top climate scientist

‘The science is crystal clear, we need to phase out fossil fuels’

Josh Gabbatiss
Science Correspondent
Saturday 13 October 2018 18:33 BST
Interview with CEO of Cuadrilla, Francis Egan, at the first fracking site in the UK near Preston in Lancashire

A researcher known as the “father of climate science” has compared the UK’s fracking programme to Donald Trump’s environmental agenda.

Ex-Nasa scientist Professor James Hansen also called on the British government to withdraw its support for the controversial gas extraction technique.

In a letter to energy minister Claire Perry, Professor Hansen warned that supporting fracking is a grave mistake that will contribute to “climate breakdown”.

Separately, he told The Observer the UK was joining Mr Trump and ignoring science as it goes “full throttle ahead with the worst fossil fuels”.

“The science is crystal clear, we need to phase out fossil fuels starting with the most damaging, the ‘unconventional’ fossil fuels such as tar sands and ‘fracking’,” he said.

Professor Hansen’s comparison with the famously climate-sceptic US president came after a critical week for both climate science and the British fracking industry.

On Monday the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that greenhouse gas emissions must be halved within the next 12 years to avoid devastating global warming.

Many interpreted this as meaning that governments must immediately focus on switching from fossil fuels such as the shale gas obtained from fracking to renewable energy sources.

At the same time, oil and gas company Cuadrilla was set to begin its first fracking operation in seven years on Saturday, only for the launch to be delayed by poor weather conditions.

The government announced plans in May to accelerate its fracking programme, and a letter sent by Ms Perry that surfaced this week suggested ministers were considering relaxing the laws that halt fracking when it causes minor earthquakes.

A copy of Professor Hansen’s letter was obtained by the Campaign to Protect Rural England, one of the many green groups that took the IPCC report as a cue to condemn the UK’s support for fracking.

“If the UK were to join the US by developing gas fields at this point in time it will lock in the methane problem for decades,” wrote Professor Hansen in his letter to Ms Perry, noting that fracking would make it difficult to meet the country’s climate targets.

“The fossil fuel companies are well aware methane is a potent greenhouse gas, and yet they seem willing to continue on a path which can have disastrous consequences for our grandchildren.”

Fracking has been condemned by groups ranging from scientists to Conservative MPs, and the most recent government polling suggests only 18 per cent of the British public supports it.

How Fracking works

Whenever new fracking operations have been mooted they have faced fierce local opposition and protest. Last month, three activists were jailed for climbing on to lorries carrying drilling equipment at a site near Blackpool.

Despite this resistance, the government has consistently stated that “safe and environmentally sound” shale gas extraction will play a vital role in the country’s future energy provision.

It has also emphasised the energy security provided by a new domestic source of gas, and the potential for new job creation the fracking industry brings.

Government advisers the Committee on Climate Change have noted that natural gas can play a role in helping the transition to renewable energy sources and slashing carbon emissions.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said it would respond to Professor Hansen’s letter “in due course”.

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