Tory MPs express fears that fracking will lose them next election

'The reality is that people don’t like fracking... and they may start demonstrating their dislike of it through the voting system'

Josh Gabbatiss
Science Correspondent
Thursday 04 October 2018 00:35 BST
How Fracking works

Conservative politicians have expressed fears about their party’s support for fracking amid suggestions the unpopular policy could cost them the next election.

MPs speaking at their party conference in Birmingham voiced concerns from backbenchers and councillors who think they will lose their seats if the government pushes ahead with its plans to expand the highly controversial form of mining.

Operations have stalled for the past seven years since exploratory drilling caused two minor earthquakes in Lancashire and prompted a ban.

However, in May the government announced its intention to accelerate the approval of new drilling sites and has since given the go ahead to a handful of new exploratory wells.

The method for extracting shale gas has sparked local pushback whenever new wells have been proposed, and MP for North East Derbyshire Lee Rowley said this opposition is unlikely to go away.

At a fringe event attended by around 40 people on Sunday examining the Conservative case against fracking, Mr Rowley said: “At the moment the lion has not roared on fracking because we have dealt with less than a dozen applications in this country for the last eight years.

“If we’re to do it at scale, if we’re to achieve whatever objective the government is setting, we will have to have hundreds in Derbyshire.

“We cannot go from the level of objections that we have had with one well to hundreds of them and not expect a political impact.”

Mr Rowley, a former oil and gas analyst, noted that the party has “so many problems at the moment” and called for its unbridled support for fracking to be dropped.

At a separate event on Tuesday discussing the UK’s “clean growth revolution”, James Heappey, the Conservative MP for Wells, reiterated concerns raised by backbenchers about the government’s plan to fast-track fracking.

“I wonder if we should look again at fracking,” he told attendees.

Up to 20 MPs are ready to rebel against the government’s plan to strip local people of the power to block fracking applications, which is currently out to consultation.

There are currently 200 parliamentary seats where fracking is a distinct possibility, 93 of which are held by Conservatives.

Experts estimate that over 6,000 wells will be needed in the UK to make it a viable option to power the UK’s energy system.

However, the technique has proved highly unpopular due to the perceived harm it causes to the local environment and its contribution to climate change.

“I have personal experience in my constituency of one application, just one, and it has generated the most opposition that has ever been seen to a planning application in North East Derbyshire,” Mr Rowley told The Independent.

“It could change the outcome of any election – local and national – the reality is that people don’t’ like fracking and are demonstrating their dislike of it through the planning system, and they may start demonstrating their dislike of it through the voting system.”

Government figures suggest that only 16 per cent of the British public support fracking.

Steve Mason from Frack Free United said politicians were right to be concerned about the popular consensus on fracking, especially in constituencies that were only won by narrow margins.

In his own region of North Yorkshire he noted there had been a notable uptick in anti-fracking candidates at the last election.

“Long term, over the next five, 10 years, if fracking gets the go ahead, this is going to take hold,” he said.

“Maybe not if it was a quick snap election this year, but in the next few years it’s going to be a massive issue.”

In response to these concerns, a spokesperson from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said: “We must have safe, secure and affordable supplies of energy as we transition to a lower-carbon economy and the Committee on Climate Change recognises natural gas has a role to play in the UK meeting its 2050 emissions reduction target.

“Shale gas has the potential to be a new domestic energy source, delivering substantial economic benefits, both nationally and locally, as well as through the creation of well paid, high-quality jobs.”

In September three fracking protesters were handed prison sentences for halting lorries carrying drilling equipment in Lancashire, in an action described as “absurdly harsh” by many who felt it eroded people’s right to protest.

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