Fracking farce: Industry fails to live up to its promise

Fracking farce: Industry fails to live up to its promise with just three of 20 wells drilled, says spending watchdog

  • The Cabinet Office claimed in 2016 there would be 20 Fracking wells by 2020
  • David Cameron’s government claimed the industry would be worth £33 billion 
  • It was also supposed to employ more than 60,000 people if fully rolled out
  • Researchers found that fracking was more unpopular than other energy sources 

Hopes that fracking would rival North Sea gas have failed to materialise, according to the National Audit Office.

David Cameron’s government had predicted the development of a £33billion industry with 64,500 jobs.

The Cabinet Office said in 2016 that 20 wells would be in operation by mid-2020.

All three fracking wells have been made by Cuadrilla at Preston New Road in Lancashire, pictured 

Fracking sites in the north west have been the subject of several large protests 

But the NAO reported that only three had been drilled.

Fracking – or ‘hydraulic fracturing’ – sees water blasted into boreholes at high pressure to crack rocks and allow trapped gas to escape to the surface.

All three wells have been made by Cuadrilla at Preston New Road in Lancashire.

Fracking has ceased there however after drilling triggered an earthquake that breached environmental regulations.

Operators have complained that UK rules are stricter than in other countries, which would permit larger tremors than the 2.9 magnitude tremor at the Cuadrilla site.

The NAO report said ministers do not expect fracking to lead to lower energy prices. Instead the emphasis is on ‘energy security’ with less reliance on foreign states and gas imports expected to rise as North Sea reserves run down.

The NAO said fracking has proved costly for local authorities and police forces, which manage protests at the sites.

The report estimated that at least £32.7million has been spent by public bodies since 2011, although the full costs are not known.

A combined bill of £13.4million has been picked up by Lancashire Constabulary, North Yorkshire Police and Nottinghamshire Police.

The NAO said public support for fracking was lower than for other energy sources and has fallen over time.

The Government attributes the slow progress of fracking to low public acceptance.

Concern about fracking operations centres around greenhouse gas emissions, groundwater pollution and fracking-induced earthquakes.

The report says landowners may be liable for the decommissioning costs of sites should an operator be unable to cover them – but arrangements are ‘unclear and untested’.

Rebecca Long-Bailey, Labour’s business and energy spokesman, condemned the fracking industry. ‘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,’ she said.

‘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 said the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy felt that climate change objectives could be met while developing fracking, but that the necessary technology was not yet ready.

Jamie Peters, fracking campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: ‘This is a quietly critical report that doesn’t give the fracking industry any revived sense of hope.

‘The NAO have several concerns including the mark-your-own-homework approach to regulation and the lack of clarity over who should be responsible for clean-up costs if fracking ever got going.

‘Nothing has changed: fracking isn’t wanted, it’s a failed industry, and the future is renewables and energy saving.’