Government's fracking commissioner resigns, bemoaning efforts to stop climate change and mini earthquakes

Natascha Engel complains government rules preventing tremors ‘amounts to a de facto ban’

Emma Snaith
Sunday 28 April 2019 17:13
Government's fracking commissioner Natascha Engel resigns

The government’s fracking tsar has resigned after six months in the post, saying the industry is being throttled by environmental activists and government rules preventing mini earthquakes.

In her resignation letter to energy minister Greg Clark, Natascha Engel said that developing the fracking industry would be “an impossible task” despite its “its enormous potential”.

She said a traffic light system that halts fracking when a tremor with a magnitude of 0.5 is recorded “amounts to a de facto ban”. She also accused environmental activists of being “highly successful” in encouraging the government to curb fracking.

“A perfectly viable and exciting new industry that could help meet our carbon reduction targets, make us energy-secure and provide jobs in parts of the country that really need them is in danger of withering on the vine – not for any technical or safety reasons, but because of a political decision,” she wrote.

Ms Engel added: “The UK is currently spending £7bn a year on importing gas – money that is not being used to build schools, hospitals or fix the potholes in our roads.

Former Labour MP Natascha Engel became the UK’s first fracking tsar in October 2018

“Developing our own shale gas industry would mean money going into the Treasury rather than out.”

Her resignation comes as Labour prepares to force a Commons vote this week to declare an environmental and climate change emergency after documents revealed the government was failing to back clean air projects.

This is one of the key demands of the Extinction Rebellion movement, whose activists paralysed parts of London in previous weeks.

In response to the news of Ms Engel’s resignation, Rebecca Long-Bailey, Labour’s shadow business secretary, tweeted: “The resignation of the #fracking commissioner is a huge victory for communities and campaigners that have fought hard to protect their air quality, water and climate.”

Critics of fracking say the amount of water used in the process is bad for the environment. They also claim fracking releases dangerous chemicals.

In March, a High Court judge concluded the climate impact of fracking had been overlooked by the government and described its policy as “flawed in its design and processes”.

Bus Ms Engel claimed the industry had the potential to create jobs and economic security, and provide a cleaner alternative to coal and biomass.

In her resignation letter, she wrote: “The UK is currently spending £7bn a year on importing gas – money that is not being used to build schools, hospitals or fix the potholes in our roads. Developing our own shale gas industry would mean money going into the Treasury rather than out.

“We know shale gas can be extracted safely. We have the best regulations and regulators in the world.

“We know the positive impact it has on local communities, but we are choosing to listen to a powerful environmental lobby campaigning against fracking rather than allowing science and evidence to guide our policy making.”

Ms Engel was Labour MP for North East Derbyshire from 2005-17, after which she worked as a consultant for Ineos, the British oil, gas and chemical giant involved in fracking.

In a statement following her resignation, she said: “I hope there will be a re-think sooner rather than later which will see policy guided by science, rather than fearmongering.

“There is much to be optimistic about how developing technologies – including fracking – can help us accelerate the reduction in CO2 and grow our economy. Sadly today only those who shout get heard.”

Ms Engel’s departure was welcomed by green groups, with Extinction Rebellion telling The Times they were “delighted” by the news.

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Rebecca Newsom, Greenpeace UK’s head of politics, said: “Faced with a climate emergency, the last thing the UK needs is an industry that will only worsen our dependence on fossil fuels for decades to come.

“UK fracking has been a total waste of time, and we can’t afford to waste any more of it. Ministers should put this industry out of its misery and focus instead on backing the clean technologies like renewables and electric vehicles that can cut our emissions and create long-lasting jobs for the future.”

Additional reporting by PA

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