Concern about fracking is growing, with the latest government figures showing that over a third of people now oppose the controversial practice.
Meanwhile public support for the gas extraction technique has dropped to some of the lowest levels ever recorded.
Of the 4,000 people asked in a Business Department survey, 35 per cent opposed fracking, up from 31 per cent in September and just shy of the 36 per cent high seen at the end of 2017. Support dropped two percentage points to 13 per cent, while concern over the risk of earthquakes jumped from 26 per cent to 40 per cent.
Drilling fracking firm Cuadrilla in Lancashire has been brought to a halt repeatedly due to tremors since work began at the end of last year, prompting the company to request a relaxation of seismic limits.
They were joined by Britain’s richest man Sir Jim Ratcliffe, whose company Ineos owns more shale gas drilling licenses than any other.
As it stands, proceedings must stop if a seismic event of more than 0.5 strikes a fracking site, but some experts say it would be safe to raise the threshold to 1.5.
However, requests to increase it have so far been denied by the government.
“The government has today met its obligation to protect our environment and the public, by refusing to entertain the desperate calls by industry for a relaxation of regulations,” said Daniel Carey-Dawes, infrastructure policy manager at the Campaign to Protect Rural England.
“It must now take this damning evidence that fracking does not have the support of the public into consideration.”
The latest public attitudes figures from the government cover December, a month that saw a 1.5 magnitude quake hit the Cuadrilla site – the largest since operations began.
Support for fracking has seen a gradual decline since the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) began asking for feedback in 2013.
In August, the government faced criticism for apparently dropping the question about fracking from its regular questionnaire, which was seen as a move to obscure low public opinion.
Besides the link with earthquakes, shale gas extraction has been criticised for the perceived harms it causes to local environments.
Environmental groups are also concerned about the consequences of locking the UK into a future of gas extraction at a time when fossil fuels must be phased out to tackle climate change.
But ministers say investing in fracking is vital to ensure the UK has a reliable supply of gas, which will act as a relatively clean “bridge fuel” as the country transitions to a green energy future.
“Fracking’s low and declining popularity is a very real and practical problem for the industry,” said Dr Doug Parr, chief scientist at Greenpeace UK.
“Ministers should put together a proper energy strategy based on the renewable technologies that are getting ever cheaper and enjoy strong public support.”
The Independent has contacted BEIS for comment.
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