Fracking furore as Shale Gas Commissioner quits. This is one area where government's Brexit paralysis could be of benefit

Natascha Engel says environmental groups are driving policy and regulations are too tough for the industry to get going 

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

Britain’s fracking Commissioner has fracked off, blaming the government for creating a “de facto ban” on the process.

Extracting shale gas by hydraulic fracturing is a controversial business, not least because of the earthquakes that have, on occasion, been created where it’s been tried but that's far from the only environmental concern.

Natascha Engel launched a media broadside at the regulations covering the industry with her resignation from the post of Shale Gas Commissioner, which she announced with a flourish at the weekend.

The rules call for the process to be suspended whenever a 0.5 magnitude tremor is detected.

Engel, in post for about six months, described this as “ridiculously low” in a TV interview. She argued that the the industry would “struggle to develop” if the government refuses to change course, and there is scant sign of that.

She went even further in her resignation letter, accusing ministers of “pandering to myths and scare stories” with the limit while claiming that environmental groups are driving policy.

Would that we had the power to do so, they would probably say in response, given the climate emergency the whole planet is facing and the notable lack of action from government in response to a range of other environmental issues that are of real and pressing concern.

Examples? How about the mountains of waste we are creating, through non recyclable coffee cups and supermarket packaging. Then there’s the government’s relaxed approach to weedkillers like Glyphosate, which you can buy at your local DIY chain despite the World Health Organisation declaring it to be a probable cause of cancer and a couple of very big verdicts against in the US.

If environmental groups were driving policy, as Engel claims, then why does Britain have such a poor environmental record?

Fracking is a controversial process with good reason. Engel rightly says that Britain needs to lower its carbon emissions. Where she and her critics would disagree is over whether fracking is the right way to go about it.

The gas it produces still emits carbon into the atmosphere, when there are alternative, and more environmentally friendly, routes that could be pursued.

Energy from renewable sources has, for example, developed at a pace that even the most optimistic of observers would have hesitated to predict a few years ago.

Engel, who has also worked as an advisor to energy company Ineos following her departure from Parliament in 2017, was appointed with a view to smoothing the somewhat rocky relationship between contractors and local communities.

She quit with the aim of drawing attention to what she sees as a problem at a time when only Brexit is getting it.

The detrimental effects of the paralysis in government caused by the latter can be seen in multiple areas, but this is one in which it may prove to be beneficial. People living in fracking areas will surely feel that way.

With Engel’s Party calling for an outright ban, the point she's trying to make may ultimately be rendered moot anyway.

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