Why the UK cannot afford to waste time or money on 'reckless' fracking quest

Prime Minister Liz Truss's move to grant more than 100 new oil and gas exploration licences was as an act nothing short of climate vandalism.

But her Government’s decision to then compound this craziness by overturning the fracking ban in communities across England surely buried what little was left of her Government's climate credentials.

We should all be worried about the consequences.

It is beyond irresponsible. It is a reckless and dangerous decision that will send tremors across the political landscape.

Anti-fracking groups from around Scotland gather to demonstrate outside the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. Picture: PA

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Despite the fanfare from the Tory front benches, it will also do absolutely nothing to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels or lower household bills.

Only this February, the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, Kwasi Kwarteng, posted a Tweet that said: "Additional UK production won’t materially affect the wholesale market price. This includes fracking – UK producers won’t sell shale gas to UK consumers below the market price. They’re not charities.”

The lack of any scientific or economic basis for the fracking industry is one reason why even the Tories promised to uphold the ban when they were elected in 2019.

Fracking is unsafe and totally unnecessary. A 2019 review, undertaken by the Oil and Gas Authority, found it presented an unacceptable risk, having triggered multiple tremors that breached the Government’s earthquake limits.

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It is also very costly and inefficient. Even by the industry's own estimates, it would take years before fracking was to produce anywhere near the quantities of gas needed to make any kind of impact on demand.

Almost a decade has already been spent trying to set up the industry in the UK, with lots of risk and no gain. We simply cannot afford to waste any more time on it.

The decision does not obviously directly impact Scotland. Unlike the ‘frack first, ask later’ approach of Truss and Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Scottish Government has taken an evidence-led approach.

A moratorium was put in place in 2015, with evidence gathering, a public consultation and a national review leading to a de-facto ban. It became clear through evidence that fracking was incompatible with Scotland’s climate ambitions.

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However, particularly when we are on the verge of a disaster, we should all have an interest in every level of government across the UK and beyond making positive choices or suffering the aftershocks that follow.

The climate crisis is a global crisis. We are seeing record temperatures here in Europe, with wildfires and droughts all across the continent. At the same time, we are seeing catastrophic flooding in Pakistan, which has destroyed hundreds of thousands of homes and turned millions of lives upside down.

It is only ten months since world leaders gathered in Glasgow for the COP26 climate conference. At the time they promised the earth, but so much of it has turned into hot air.

The decisions that politicians make today will be felt for decades to come. It is the big polluters that need to make the biggest changes, and that includes the UK.

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We cannot drill or frack our way out of climate change, and every day that politicians like Truss pretend otherwise makes the scale of the action we need to take to counter it all the greater and more urgent.

We need a proper green industrial revolution, with immediate far-reaching reform of the energy markets and major investment in home insulation and renewable energy.

With Scottish Greens in Government, we are starting to deliver on that agenda, alongside record investment in nature restoration, the circular economy and offshore wind.

This is the defining challenge of current and all future generations, governments need to start acting like it.

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We need real transformative action, not the backward steps that come from fracking for fossil fuels we can’t afford to burn. Every fraction of a degree will be crucial if we are to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of rising sea levels and extreme weather events.

Carbon emissions anywhere can impact people everywhere, whether they are caused by oil drilling in the North Sea or fracking in England. Climate change knows no borders, and nor should the action we take to stop it.

- Mark Ruskell is the climate and energy spokesperson for the Scottish Greens

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