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Fracking Hell: Living with the Government’s Unpopular Policy

Stuart Spray speaks to the residents of Great Plumpton, close to a shale gas exploration site, about the realities of fracking – as Westminster descends into chaos over banning it

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg. Photo: Aaron Chown/PA/Alamy

Fracking HellLiving with the Government’s Unpopular Policy

Stuart Spray speaks to the residents of Great Plumpton, close to a shale gas exploration site, about the realities of fracking – as Westminster descends into chaos over banning it

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MPs yesterday rejected a Labour Party motion to secure a vote on the banning of shale gas extraction in the UK.

Ahead of the vote, in a leaked message to MPs, Conservative Deputy Chief Whip Craig Whittaker issued a hard three-line whip telling them that “this is not a motion on fracking. This is a confidence motion in the Government”.

The threat of being expelled from the party helped secured the backing of 314 Conservative MPs, several of whom have vigorously campaigned to ban fracking in the past. The 39 Conservatives who abstained from the vote – including Prime Minister Liz Truss, Kwasi Kwarteng, Theresa May, Ian Duncan Smith, Nadine Dorries and Boris Johnson – could all, in theory, lose the whip.

Some of those who backed the Government may have also been swayed by Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg’s late amendment promising that no fracking licenses would be issued without the full support of the local communities in question. He assured Parliament that “if evidence of appropriate local support for any development is insufficient, that development should not proceed” and that “local communities will have a veto”.

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Stuart Spray

Once the vote was announced, Westminster Hall appeared to descend into chaos. Labour MP Chris Bryant immediately called for an investigation into alleged bullying in the voting lobby where he claimed to have witnessed a member “being physically manhandled” and “being bullied”. Labour’s Anna McMorrin tweeted that she had also seen a Conservative member “in tears being manhandled into the lobby to vote against our motion to continue the ban on fracking”.

Reports then began to circulate that Whittaker and Chief Whip Wendy Morton had both resigned, after having what was described as “a strong exchange of views” with Liz Truss over whether the vote was a confidence vote in the Government or not. The Government later backtracked and said both remained in their positions.

In August 2019, the shale gas exploration site on Preston New Road (PNR) – in Conservative MP Mark Menzies’ Fylde constituency near Blackpool – was at the epicentre of a tremor measuring 2.9 in magnitude, which caused local houses to shake.

A few months later, fracking in was banned England, following the findings of a report by the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) which concluded that it was not possible to “accurately predict the probability or magnitude of earthquakes linked to fracking operations”. 

Menzies backed the Government in last night’s vote based, he said, on the understanding that Truss and Rees-Mogg would honour their commitment to a “fair, transparent and meaningful consultation” that gives the people of Fylde the opportunity to “reject fracking and, more importantly, to have their voice heard”.

Earlier in the week, Byline Times visited Great Plumpton – just 1km as the crow flies from Cuadrilla’s PNR fracking site – to find out what the local community thought of the prospect of fracking resuming on their doorstep.

Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road (PNR) shale gas exploration site. Photo: Stuart Spray

“We all heaved a sigh of relief once the moratorium [on fracking] came into place,” said John. “It’s just too close to habitation, it’s just too close to people’s residences.”

Another resident was concerned that the safety limit of 0.5 for Earth tremors would have to be raised in order to allow the fracking to go ahead. “Goodness know what would happen if we would be hitting four, five and sixes. Then things will start breaking on your mantelpiece and cracks will appear in your wall.”

One local said she was “disheartened” by the Government’s approach because reports said that the seismic tremors in August 2019 were the equivalent of “a melon dropping”.

“I rushed downstairs because I believed that a big truck had hit next door,” she told Byline Times. “The whole house shook. Everything in the house shook and I thought next door was demolished. If it was near Truss or Rees-Mogg’s house, they wouldn’t allow it because it is quite worrying when it happens.”

Local Farmer and lifelong Conservative voter Harold Butler told Byline Times he was ambivalent about fracking until the tremor – which completely changed his mind. “It knocked me off the fence, so now I don’t want it here,” he said.

“Most people around here are dead against it,” Butler added. “I’m on the local parish council and we discussed it the other night – in fact, we agreed to send a letter to the PM to define what ‘local’ was. We are as local as local can be in the parish.”

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Adrian Wright didn’t consider fracking to be an issue when he moved into the village just three months ago. He believes Liz Truss should be taken at her word when she says that she will only allow fracking with local consent.

“I find it hard to believe she would backtrack on that,” he told this newspaper. “But she’s backtracked quite a few times, so who knows?”

“In terms of supplying energy, I don’t think [the shale gas] will even dent the requirements of the energy we use. But more than that, it will not dent the price – because the price is set worldwide and it will not bring it down.”

Katrina Lawrie, who lives and works very close to the fracking site, told Byline Times she opposed fracking last time it happened in the area, along with the majority of Fylde. She believes that there is even more of a sense of opposition this time around.

“Nobody that you speak to in this area wants fracking, I believe that Cuadrilla know that too,” she said. “The science hasn’t changed, the geology hasn’t changed. And if they do try and bring it back, they know the forcible opposition they’ll be met with. Hopefully Truss will make a U-turn – but she quite possibly won’t be in power long enough for that.”

If the Government sticks to its promise to allow local communities the final say, lifting the fracking moratorium could turn out to be another of Liz Truss’ ill-thought-out schemes that doesn’t make it off the drawing board.

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