Government missing own fracking targets despite £32.7m spending, watchdog finds

Posted On: 
23rd October 2019

The Government has been criticised after a probe into its fracking policy found that despite costs racking up, ministers do not know how much shale gas can be extracted.

Three local police forces had spent £13.4m on securing shale gas sites, according to the report

The National Audit Office (NAO) found that although the Government is committed to developing a shale gas industry, progress to get it up and running had been “slower” than planned.

Fracking seeks to extract gas and oil from shale rock wells by using highly pressurised water, sand and chemicals - and the report comes amid environmental and health concerns about the practice.

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The watchdog found that although the Cabinet Office expected up to 20 fracked wells by mid-2020, just three have been opened to date.

The report said the policy had hit public sector budgets, with at least £32.7m having been spent on it since 2011, including £13.4m by three local police forces to secure shale gas sites.

The NAO also pointed out that ministers “have not analysed the benefits or costs” of supporting the industry, since the uncertainty around how much can be extracted would not make such a study “meaningful”.

Furthermore, the report flagged that the Government could not explain whether taxpayers would be forced to foot the bill if operators or landowners were no longer able to afford to decommission sites.

It also revealed that the Government’s own public attitudes survey revealed that opposition to shale gas has increased from 21% to 40% between 2013 and 2019.

Shadow Business and Energy Secretary, Rebecca Long Bailey, said of the report: “The Tory-Lib Dem Coalition and now the Tory Government have wasted millions pushing an industry that is unpopular across the UK and fiercely opposed locally.

“Fracking threatens air and water quality, and it contributes to the climate crisis. And as this report reveals, the Government's plan for making fracking sites safe after they’ve been used is unclear and untested.

“Well let me be crystal clear - Labour will ban fracking immediately.”

The NAO also highlighted that although the Department believes it can meet its climate change objectives while pursuing the policy, “it has not yet developed the necessary technology”.

Daniel Carey-Dawes from CPRE, the countryside charity, said: “For several years now, local communities have been bamboozled by shale salespersons, promising economic boom, lower energy bills, all at no cost to the environment.

“The NAO report highlights the lack of evidence to support any of these claims, and the lack of clarity on who will meet the costs of decommissioning wells when the fracking circus leaves town.”

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has been approached for comment.