The prospect of fracking in England has received another blow as only a handful of constituency MPs with exploration licenses back the measure in their area, the Guardian can reveal.
When asked if they would support fracking in their constituencies, only five of 138 MPs said they would. Forty-one said they would oppose it, while the rest either didn’t respond or declined to comment.
Many areas where fracking could be a possibility lie within the “red wall”, with Tory MPs representing those seats perhaps aware that their position could be difficult in the next general election.
One of those MPs, Alexander Stafford, won the 2019 election in Rother Valley, South Yorkshire, a seat that had been Labor since its inception in 1918.
He said he was “totally against” hydraulic fracturing in his region, adding: “It’s yesterday’s technology and it won’t solve our cost problems. It will take way too long to unfold. We need to wean ourselves off hydrocarbons – which leave us in the lurch of ugly dictators like Putin, or at the mercy of fluctuating international energy prices.
At the other end of England, seats in predominantly conservative areas including Surrey, Sussex and Dorset are covered by fracking licenses.
Mims Davies, Employment Minister and MP for Mid Sussex, made it clear there was no local support for fracking in her constituency or other affected areas.
She said: “I believe shale gas exploration should only proceed with local support and as long as it is safe and environmentally friendly for nearby communities. Alongside my own concerns about the potential impact of this type of drilling in special areas like Mid Sussex, I have previously written on behalf of and in support of my deeply concerned constituents in Cuckfield, regarding planning issues at a site controversial in the small village of Balcombe. This site is just outside my constituency, but in the district of Mid Sussex.
Environmental activists expressed concern last week when the government indicated it would reconsider hydraulic fracturing, a controversial technique designed to recover gas and oil from shale rock. Boris Johnson’s spokesman said “all options”, including fracking, would be considered before the energy strategy, expected in the coming days, is completed.
It came after a group of Tory backbenchers, including members of the Net Zero Scrutiny Group, lobbied for the government to change its stance on fracking and hosted protesters last week. members of the shale gas industry in Parliament.
Steve Baker, trustee of the climate-skeptical Global Warming Policy Foundation, told reporters: “According to government plans, we will need large amounts of gas even as renewables expand. It’s time for all of us to listen to the facts, not the scare stories. The shale gas industry needs a level playing field and an end to hysterical misinformation.
But he is unlikely to find support from colleagues in areas covered by active land exploration licenses, of which his constituency of Wycombe is not.
Local communities have protested vigorously and often successfully against fracking attempts in Lancashire, Yorkshire, Cheshire and Sussex. Their concerns included the climate crisis, earthquakes and high levels of lorry traffic – 50 per day at a proposed site, and fears of water, air and noise pollution. The issue of disposal of contaminated water from wells was also raised.
Fracking is not only politically difficult. Experts say it could also be nearly impossible to produce enough energy to justify the environmental and climate damage. The areas considered for fracturing are those rich in shale rocks. the Bowland Shale Rocks, in northern England, formed more than 300 m ago as sediment, and the organic material was buried in an ocean basin. Since then, tectonic activity has bent the rocks towards the east and west coasts of the UK, making them more accessible.
But although this area contains shale gas, scientists say it will be very difficult to extract. Tectonic activity has left behind a complex geologic situation, which makes shales much more difficult to mine than simpler formations in the United States. “We have the wrong kind of geology, small geological basins rather than large areas of identical geology,” said Professor Jon Gluyas, an energy specialist at Durham University. “We also have, to put it bluntly, the wrong kind of shale.” British shales are rich in soft clays which do not support fractures well, unlike the “crusty” shales in the United States.
In the south of England, the shale in the Weald basin is also of marine origin but was formed between 200m and 145m years ago. The rocks could only produce shale oil, not gas, because they weren’t buried deep enough, and overall the British Geological Survey doesn’t consider the basin a solid prospect.
A firm figure on how much gas could be produced by hydraulic fracturing is unknown, and dozens of wells would have to be drilled to find out. The current best estimate indicates approximately five years of use to current UK use, although some people in the industry quote a figure of 50 years. Shale gas production in the UK would not be able to drive down the global price of gas, even if thousands of wells were drilled over the next decade, and some be capable of being exported.
Most experts say that increasing the energy efficiency of homes and producing cheaper wind and solar power are the fastest and most efficient way to tackle the energy and climate crises.
Third Energy, one of the main companies that had pursued fracking, now has “absolutely no interest in fossil gas” and is targeting renewables and using its wells to test carbon dioxide burial. Another leading company, Cuadrilla, must begin to permanently seal its two wells in Lancashire this week to meet a legal deadline. “The inconvenient fact, like it or not, is that the UK has not discovered any good shale for onshore gas production,” said Professor Stuart Haszeldine, from the University of Edinburgh.
A government spokesman has not ruled out resuming support for fracking. They said: “In light of Russia’s unwarranted invasion of Ukraine and rising global gas prices, it is right that we move away from dependence on Russian gas and increase our self-reliance in our security. energy. We are considering all of our options. We will establish an energy supply strategy that will boost our renewable and nuclear energy capacity and support our oil and gas industry in the North Sea.
The spokesman said gas produced by the UK generally had a smaller environmental footprint than liquid natural gas imports from overseas.