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Tory MPs angrily challenge Rees-Mogg’s fracking revival plan frackingMEERI News

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mEERI NEWS

Ministers face an angry backlash from Conservative MPs after reversing a manifesto pledge to halt fracking until it is proven safe, and then hinting that drilling could go ahead without local support.

Outlining a return to shale gas extraction in England after three years, Jacob Rees-Mogg dismissed concerns about earthquakes caused by the practice as “hysteria”, claiming it was often due to a lack of scientific understanding.

But speaking in the Commons, the Business and Energy Secretary was repeatedly challenged by Tory MPs, who asked how local support for fracking would be assessed and sought confidence in Liz Truss’ pledge that it would be needed. was

Rees-Mogg refused to be drawn, saying only that fracking firms would be urged to financially compensate people affected by shale gas drilling, a practice she said was “in the national interest”.

The Guardian has also learned that Rees-Mogg’s department can designate fracking sites as Nationally Important Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs), allowing them to bypass general planning requirements.

Such a designation, which a government source confirmed is being considered, is commonly used for projects such as roads and power generation schemes. Applying it to fracking sites would anger many Tory MPs.

Mark Menzies, the Conservative MP for Fylde in Lancashire, where fracking took place before ministers banned the practice in 2019, told the Guardian that using the NSIP system would be a clear breach of Truss’ promise during his Tory leadership campaign that drilling would only Only with local approval.

“If Beis [the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy] Do it, they do it in light of the clear commitments made by the Prime Minister – there are no ifs or buts, it’s clear what he said,” Menzies said.

“Let’s give her a chance to show the people of this country that she is a prime minister who does what she says she is going to do. Let’s hope we don’t get into the territory of people who feel they’ve been told one thing and something else happens. “

Another Tory MP, whose constituency could see fracking, said the only way he would support it was if the plans were approved by local planners, with no chance of decisions being made and then reversed. goes

“I am going to wait and see what the government does,” the MP said. “But I have marked their card. I’m not a fan of fracking, and I’m not sure at this stage that it’s safe to go ahead.

Asked by Labor MP Wes Streeting on the BBC’s Question Time whether he supported fracking in his own community on Thursday night, Cabinet Office Parliamentary Secretary Brendan Clarke-Smith said: “No because I’m very consistent. yes I’m neutral on this, I want to see more evidence.

He added: “There are areas of the country where people are calling for fracking, people think it would be very beneficial, people want to explore it, I think people should be given the option for it.”

It marks another political threat to Truss, with polling consistently showing that fracking is unpopular, and little evidence that England has enough accessible shale gas to make a noticeable dent in energy prices.

The Conservatives’ 2019 manifesto pledged to halt fracking until there was greater scientific certainty about its safety, particularly on seismic activity triggered by drilling.

A report by the British Geological Survey, commissioned by ministers and finally published this week, said the frequency and magnitude of earthquakes created by fracking remained difficult to predict.

But in a particularly belligerent-looking Commons appearance, prompted by a Labor urgent question after announcing the restart of fracking in a press release, Rees-Mogg said its opposition was “just luddite”. Was and, in some cases, he said, financed by Vladimir Putin.

“It’s safe,” he said. “It has been shown to be safe. The horror stories have been disproved time and time again. Seismic activity, I think, fails to understand that the Richter scale is a logarithmic scale.”

Rees-Mogg said that the previous limit for seismic activity caused by fracking — 0.5 magnitude — was very low, and that earthquakes of 2.5 were a completely routine natural phenomenon globally.

Ed Miliband, the shadow secretary for climate change, called the plan a “charter for earthquakes”, promising Rees-Mogg that Labor would “hang this broken promise around its neck in every part of the country between now and the next general election”. .

Labor hopes to hold the upcoming by-election in West Lancashire, a de facto referendum on fracking due to the departure of current Labor MP Rosie Cooper, as the constituency is another area where drilling could take place.

Commons exchanges revealed the extent of Tory skepticism towards the new policy, with several MPs pressing Rees-Mogg on how and if local support would be measured.

Sir Greg Knight, the Tory MP for East Yorkshire, another area with shale gas reserves, told Rees-Mogg that the safety evidence for fracking was not there: “Is he aware, public safety is not a currency in which some Guess which of us has to choose?”

A visibly angry Menzies initially responded to Rees-Mogg’s comments about opposition to fracking: “There’s nothing good about the people of Lancashire or Fylde.”

Mark Fletcher, the Tory MP for Bolsover in Derbyshire, expressed concern about Rees-Mogg’s repeated argument that concerned local people could be compensated by fracking firms.

“I have listened carefully to the Secretary of State, and I have to say that the plans for local consent do not seem to wash,” he said. “It comes back to communities being bought in rather than voting.”

Ministers will also expect considerable opposition from campaign groups, and possibly protests and blockades, if they go ahead with fracking schemes.

Tom Fiennes, interim chief executive of countryside charity CPRE, said there was “not a cat in hell that people would accept fracking in their neighbourhood”.

He said: “It’s very unpopular and unsafe, which is why it was banned in the first place. So there is a real fear that the government will try to use the planning system to force fracking into unwilling communities. To do so would be an astonishingly ill-judged attack on local democracy.

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