Guest post: What Covid-19 teaches us about fracking in the UK

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Fencing outside Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road fracking site, 18 August 2018. Photo: Ros Wills

In this guest post, Chris Hesketh makes the case for a post-Covid-19 recovery without fracking or unconventional gas extraction.


The mass lockdowns caused by Covid-19 are expected to reduce CO2 levels in 2020 by around 8%, which is similar to the 7.6% reduction needed every year in order to meet the Paris climate agreement.

The effects of runaway climate change will sadly make coronavirus look like a gentle warm up act, so we will have to face up to the CO2 challenge very soon.  Having prevaricated for so many years, the pace of change forced upon us will be drastic.

It is possible for us to avoid lockdown becoming a permanent state of affairs to address climate change but it will require governments to do their part in removing fossil fuels from our everyday lives.

Right now, the UK government is still prevaricating, talking about zero carbon commitments while its actions are going in the opposite direction.

As well as massive road building plans, four fracking or shale gas applications have been approved in recent years and ministers are considering whether to approve schemes at Ellesmere Port in Cheshire and Woodsetts in South Yorkshire.  Common sense prevailed on the now suspended Heathrow’s third runway scheme because of valiant court action, rather than the Government choosing to move in the right direction.

Scale back gas consumption

For some years, the nascent fracking industry in the UK has sought to portray itself as being an environmentally-friendly stepping stone to a cleaner future because it was supposedly cleaner than burning coal.

This argument is now blatantly false, partly because coal provides an almost insignificant proportion of UK electricity, but also because satellite measurements of methane levels from fracking areas show that because of the potent impact of small leaks, fracking is comparable to coal from a C02 perspective.

The other argument put forward by the fracking industry is that it is better to produce gas at home than to import it.  Far better than either option is to scale back our gas consumption so that we need neither fracking, nor imports.

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Photo: DrillOrDrop

Insulating houses would provide large numbers of jobs in a post Covid-19 economy, whilst significantly reducing gas demand.  Similarly, incentivising heat pump installations instead of renewing gas boilers would reduce demand even further. Reinstating the zero carbon homes initiative, cancelled by George Osborne in 2015 without any justifiable reason, would avoid adding more houses to the gas network. Raising the special 5% VAT rate for gas and heating oil, whilst also reducing VAT on electricity, would further encourage the reduction in gas demand.

These options are economically sensible for both jobs and prosperity, as well as benefitting the climate.  In the future, there will have to be tax increases to pay for the Covid-19 bailout and it makes sense to apply them in places that benefit society.   Fuel poverty will be avoided by people using less gas in their better insulated homes, and progressively moving away from having a gas connection at all.

Public support for renewables

Thanks to the Blue Planet series, the general public are already keen on reduced plastic usage and this should be actively encouraged to continue.

As for fracking, the Government’s own opinion tracker has consistently shown that more people oppose than support it and there is popular support for incentivising further renewable energy production.  The public is supporting the best approach because renewable energy is now cheaper than all other options and the National Grid is showing that it is able to keep the power stable with ever diminishing amounts of fossil fuels.

By contrast, fracking has a high cost base and the companies seeking to do exploratory drilling right now are relying on the idea that the wholesale price of gas will go up in the future because the current price is too low for them to be economically viable. Implicitly, they are hoping that we remain locked into using lots of gas and are happy to pay higher prices so that they can have their opportunity to make some profits.

Now is the time to harness the popular consensus with a bold plan for a cleaner future, as well as rebuilding the economy after the financial impacts of the lockdown.

When Covid-19 struck, the UK government was initially concerned that the general public would resent the impact on their lives, but in practice people have shown that they believed in following the science and a sense of community unity has emerged.

Post-lockdown normal

A recurring question now is about what the new post-lockdown normal should look like.

There are economically-sensible options available to us that are in the best interests of the people and the planet, so it is time for the politicians to stop listening to the fossil fuel lobbyists and set out a plan for decarbonising the economy as a Covid-19 recovery strategy.

If we wish to look after the planet without needing a permanent lockdown, then we need a plan that makes some significant adjustments.  For the avoidance of all doubt, that plan will not include fracking, or any other form of unconventional gas extraction.

Chris Hesketh, a member of Frack Free Duddleston, successfully campaigned against unconventional gas extraction in Shropshire

This content was originally published here.

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