Jacob Rees-Mogg Accused Of Supporting "Dangerous Fringe Ideas" After Fracking U-Turn
Jacob Rees-Mogg has defended the government's plans to reintroduce fracking in the UK (Alamy)
Labour has accused Jacob Rees-Mogg of supporting "dangerous fringe" ideas after the new Business Secretary insisted the government would be pressing ahead with new fracking projects.
Rees-Mogg has also faced the ire of some backbench Conservative MPs after they raised concerns that the government's newly announced fracking proposals would put public safety at risk.
Fracking has been banned in the UK since 2019 following Boris Johnson's introduction of a moratorium following concerns about earth tremors caused by the practice.
The decision to break the manifesto commitment on fracking was formally approved on Thursday as Rees-Mogg claimed "all available sources" would be explored to increase energy security in the wake of Putin's invasion of Ukraine.
He said seismic limits, which restrict fracking projects based on the tremors they cause, would be increased to allow plans to progress.
Shadow climate change secretary Ed Miliband told the Commons the government had "broken" their promise despite no change in the scientific evidence.
"They are lifting the ban, but they cannot provide the evidence... In the absence of the evidence, [Rees-Mogg's approach is to change the safety limits," he said.
Describing the proposals as a "dangerous experiment", he added: "We will hang this broken promise around their necks in every part of the country between now and the next general election."
"You can't escape a fossil fuels crisis by doubling down on fossil fuels."
"He has shown he is willing to break his promises to support dangerous fringe ideas that put the interests of fossil fuel companies above that of the British people."
Prime Minister Liz Truss has already insisted that fracking would not go ahead if it "carries a risk" or there was not local community support for projects.
A review into the earthquake risk conducted by the British Geological Survey has concluded forecasting "remains a scientific challenge for the geoscience community".
The study, which was ordered by then-Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng – who now serves as Chancellor – added that there had been little scientific progress in the field and more data was required to draw conclusions about the potential environmental impacts.
Responding to the concerns in the Commons today, Rees-Mogg said current seismic limits were too cautious, and should be increased to put them in line with other construction projects.
"We know that seismic activity of 2.5 and below on the Richter scale takes place millions of times a year across the globe," he said.
"There are standards for ground level movements for construction work that are double those that have ever been achieved by shale gas exploration in this country."
But the proposals have infuriated some Conservative MPs in areas of the country where fracking sites have been proposed, with Flyde MP Mark Menzies saying he was "disappointed" with the announcement.
"I want to start by saying how disappointed I am that Parliament was not informed of this before the media, and that as a local MP I was not given the courtesy despite having requested for two weeks, contacting [Rees-Mogg] for information," he said.
"I have sent letters, I have sent WhatsApps, I have had nothing back."
He added: "The prime minister said on the campaign trail, it was crystal clear, no ifs, no buts, no caveats, that fracking would only take place in the UK if there was local consent.
"If the prime minister is to remain a woman of her word, a woman we can believe in, which I believe she is, can they outline how that local consent will be given?"
Rees-Mogg insisted that local community support was "fundamental" before any approvals would be granted.
"We obviously want to work with local communities, and it's really important that companies who seek to explore shale gas come up with packages they will propose to local communities," he said.
"It is of fundamental importance."
Greg Knight, the Conservative MP for East Yorkshire criticised the lack of scientific evidence underpinning the proposals.
"Despite what he said, is it not the case that forecasting the occurence of seismic events as a result of fracking remains a challenge to the experts," he said.
"Is it not therefore creating a risk of an unknown quantity to pursure shale gas exploration at the present time.
"Is he aware the safety of the public is not a currency which some of us choose to spend?"
Mark Fletcher, the Conservative MP for Bolsover, said the local consent policy "doesn't seem to wash".
"It seems to come back to communities being bought off rather than having a vote," he said.
"Can he confirm once and for all that residents who are concerned about fracking will get a vote to object to these plans locally?"
But Rees-Mogg insisted it was down to fracking firms to produce "packages" to win over local communities.
"I think I have made it very clear the companies will have a deep responsibility to develop packages that make the extraction of shale gas attractive to local communities," he said. "It is really important they succeed with that."
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