The Conservative election manifesto of 2019 made it abundantly clear that the party would not support fracking unless the safety of the process was supported by science:
The new report from the British Geological Survey (BGS), which was leaked last week to the Guardian and published today, suggests that there is still a “scientific challenge” in predicting earthquake tremors calling into question the safety element.
Lifting the ban on fracking before the publication of the awaited supporting scientific report has been one of Truss’s main decisions since taking office, despite the election pledge that this would not happen. This broken promise with the electorate and public suggests that Truss feels that she is not bound by the manifesto promises – an approach which may prove costly with any upcoming general election.
Key points from the scientific report
The report focused on six key scientific questions relating to any changes in the scientific process, such as “Have there been new developments in the science of fracturing? ln particular, are there new techniques in use which could reduce the risk and magnitude of seismic events?” It deliberately did not address any societal implications, but focused on developments and mitigation processes.
In order to support the decision to lift the ban of fracking, the required standard from the Conservative manifesto was that there needed to be a categorical assurance that it could be done safely.
“We will not support fracking unless the science shows categorically that it can be done safely.”
The BGS report concluded that, “Forecasting the occurrence of large earthquakes and their expected magnitude remains a scientific challenge for the geoscience community”. Also, that the potential maximum earthquake tremors could not be accurately determined as, “the estimation of maximum magnitudes before and during HF operations remains challenging”. The BGS itself quotes from commission studies by the Oil & Gas Authority, which state, “there remain significant uncertainties and challenges related to the prediction and management of induced seismicity from hydraulic fracturing”.
‘Fracking won’t work in the UK’
The founder of Cuadrilla Resources, Chris Cornelius, was quoted this week as saying “I don’t think there is any chance of fracking in the UK in the near term”. Cuadrilla is the company that drilled the first modern wells in Lancashire. He outlined that the geology of the UK would deter potential investors in operations. This is an expert comment from within the industry – advice that has been ignored, with the prime minister lifting the ban on fracking. Cornelius feels that this lifting of the ban is simply “good political soundbites”, which will be quietly shelved once local opposition begins to mount.
“We must tolerate earthquakes in national interest” – Jacob Rees-Mogg
On the other hand, in a written statement to MPs this week, the business secretary, Jacob Rees-Mogg, argued that we must learn to live with earthquakes in order to be more energy sufficient.
“While HM Government will always try to limit disturbance to those living and working near to sites, tolerating a higher degree of risk and disturbance appears to us to be in the national interest given the circumstances.”
He went further in the Newsnight interview, when he said that the government would review the permitted levels of seismic activity at fracking sites to a “proportionate level” suggesting that the current regulations of readings of 0.5 on the Richter scale, may be too low and that the limit may be increased to allow for fracking to continue. He stated, “I can’t confirm a new level because that is being looked at”.
This view was eviscerated by the shadow climate change secretary and MP for Doncaster North, Ed Miliband, who pointed out:
“They are lifting the ban, but they can’t supply the evidence. In the absence of the evidence his approach is to change the safety limits.” He promised that the opposition would “hang this broken promise around their necks in every part of the country”.
Miliband concluded his criticism of the government’s plans by stating, “You can’t escape a fossil fuel crisis by doubling down on fossil fuels”.
Fracking ban: betrayal of trust on election promises
The options open to the prime minister are now limited. She can undergo an embarrassing U-turn on one of her first major decisions as PM, or forge ahead with a plan that will face fierce criticism and won’t be successful in helping the UK be energy dependent or help with the cost-of-living crisis. The scientific evidence does not support the lifting of the ban, so we are left wondering in whose interests she is acting.
Apart from the local issues on fracking and anger of communities, there is a wider issue on electoral trust. If election promises made to the public are cast aside for political expediency, then trust in democracy begins to erode. If Truss is not accountable for the manifesto pledges of the 2019 Conservative government, then we now have a government which no one voted for and one which is not beholden to anyone.
The term escapes me for a government that no one voted for and which isn’t responsible for promises it makes, but we may have had a very British coup in the UK.