Levelling Up Secretary Says Fracking Could Be Necessary To Overcome Energy Crisis
Simon Clarke suggested the government could reconsider its ban on fracking (Alamy)
Levelling Up Secretary Simon Clarke has said the controversial practice of fracking should be "looked at" as part of new measures to diversify the UK's energy supply.
Prime Minister Liz Truss will announce a major package of support on Thursday in an attempt to help households and businesses with soaring energy bills.
The measures are expected to include a new freeze on the cap of household energy bills, alongside further steps to protect business and increase the UK's supply of energy.
Speaking to Sky News ahead of the announcement, new Levelling Up Secretary Simon Clarke suggested proposals could also include a reversal of a 2019 ban on fracking, which has been strongly opposed by some within her own party.
But Clarke said the government needed to look at "every source" of energy extraction as part of the short-term approach to tackling the crisis.
"If we want energy sufficiency we have to look at every source, including clearly new nuclear, more renewables and there is fantastic news around technologies such as offshore wind where the price keeps falling," he said.
"But we also ought to look at technologies like fracking. We have to do so in the most sensitive possible way with community consent at the absolute heart of our policies."
Clarke insisted the government would take a "balanced approach" to any new fracking plans, suggesting ministers would not abandon plans to achieve Net Zero emissions by 2050 – a pledge which could be significantly impacted by any widescale fracking operations.
"The Net Zero commitment which the government has made by 2050 is critical," he said.
"It is something I pushed for as a backbencher, it is something I passionately believe unlocks the greatest energy security as well as economic opportunity, but in the near time we need all kinds of gas as a transition fuel. That is something the Prime Minister will be saying more about later today."
A U-turn on fracking could put Truss at odds with newly-appointed Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng, who wrote six months ago that proponents for the increased extraction of shale gas "misunderstand the situation we find ourselves in".
"Even if we lifted the fracking moratorium tomorrow, it would take up to a decade to extract sufficient volumes," he wrote.
"And it would come at a high cost for communities and our precious countryside."
The move would also break the party's 2019 manifesto pledge to not press ahead with fracking without further scientific study, and would likely anger Conservative MPs in the north, where many of the proposed sites are based.
Truss has already faced criticism over her proposed plans for tackling the energy crisis, which she has already said would not be funded by a further windfall tax on oil and gas profits.
She clashed with Labour leader Keir Starmer during her first session of Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday, where he claimed that failure to tax the estimated £170bn profits for oil and gas firms would significantly increase the burden on taxpayers.
But Clarke pushed back against the comments, saying that oil and gas giants were already paying their "fair share" of tax.
"The reality is that if companies are making large profits then of course they will also be paying large amounts in tax to the Exchequer," he said.
"There is already a windfall tax which was introduced earlier this year."
He added: "Critically, it's worth remembering oil and gas companies pay double the main rate of Corporation Tax, 40p in the Pound compared to 19p as the main rate.
"It's not as though they don't pay their fair share of taxation."
Speaking to BBC Breakfast, shadow climate change secretary Ed Miliband said the government's plan would not "spread the burden fairly".
"She's got a proposal to cancel the rise in corporation tax...that is going to cost £17bn. We know that our public services are struggling in the most terrible way," he said.
"I don't think the right priority is massive tax cuts for businesses."
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