UK: Fracking ban lifted as energy security made ‘absolute priority’ by government - Carbon Brief

2022-10-08 07:03:20 By : Mr. JD Zhao

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England’s fracking ban has been lifted as the UK government has vowed to explore all avenues to improve energy security, reports the Press Association, which says the move sets “Downing Street on a collision course with environmental campaigners”. Business secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg said the impact of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine means securing domestic energy supplies is vital as he defended lifting the moratorium on fracking, which has been in place since 2019 after a series of tremors caused by the process, the newswire explains. Rees-Mogg suggested limits on acceptable levels of seismic activity are too restrictive and said the government is determined to “realise any potential sources of domestic gas”. The 2019 Conservative manifesto pledged not to lift England’s moratorium on fracking unless “the science shows categorically it can be done safely”, the outlet notes. The government-commissioned review by the British Geological Survey (BGS) – finally published yesterday – found that there was still a “limited” understanding of how likely fracking was to cause earthquakes, the Times reports. After examining studies and peer-reviewed papers published since fracking was banned in 2019, the BGS concluded that estimating the maximum magnitude of earthquakes before and during fracking “remains challenging”, the paper explains. It quotes Brian Baptie, one of the authors of the review, who said: “I don’t think there has been a change in our understanding [of earthquakes caused by fracking]. Fundamentally, there’s still a lot of uncertainty.“ BBC News notes that “Scottish and Welsh governments continue to oppose fracking, and say they will not use their powers to grant drilling licences”.

The government is facing a backlash from its own MPs over its decision, reports another BBC News article. In a commons debate, business secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg promised that local people would be consulted before fracking gets under way in their area, the outlet explains, adding that “he declined to say how they would be asked, but claimed that fracking would become popular if drilling firms paid residents for the ‘inconvenience’”. Rees-Mogg told MPs: “We should not be ashamed of paying people who are going to be the ones who don’t get the immediate benefit of the gas but have the disruption.” BBC News says “a string of Tory, Labour and Lib Dem MPs with potential fracking sites in their constituencies joined in with the criticism”, with one MP saying: “I’ve listened carefully to the secretary of state and I have to say the local consent plans don’t seem to wash…It seems to come back to communities being bought off rather than having a vote.” Labour’s shadow climate change secretary Ed Miliband, who secured an urgent question in Parliament on the issue, described fracking as a “dangerous fantasy”, adding: “We now have an energy policy run for big fossil fuel interests not for the British people. No to the windfall tax and yes to dangerous, unsafe fracking.” HuffPost says Rees-Mogg “got a pasting” from fellow Conservative MPs. Rees-Mogg dismissed the concerns as “hysteria” and “sheer ludditery”, reports the Independent. The Daily Telegraph‘s sketchwriter notes that Rees-Mogg is “perhaps not the minister you’d choose for winning hearts and minds via the common touch”, adding: “He assumed the tone of a Dowager Duchess who had just walked in on an under-butler doing something unspeakable to a soup tureen.” The Guardian’s sketchwriter says: “Long gone are the times when MPs were impressed by his faux politeness and smug self-confidence, squeezed into an oversized undertaker’s suit.” The Guardian factchecks Ress-Mogg’s comments that fracking is “safe” and “vital”. Among his responses, Rees-Mogg also told MPs that “there have been stories widely reported that some of the opposition to fracking has been funded by Mr Putin’s regime”, reports the Independent and the Daily Telegraph. Miliband responded on Twitter that the comments were an “absolutely outrageous slur” and condemned them as “shameful and disgraceful”. (DeSmog has previously explained that no evidence have ever been provided to back up the claims, which were “amplified by mainstream conservative newspapers” earlier this year. They mostly rely on “an unsubstantiated remark from 2014 by the then NATO secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen”.)

The Guardian reports that the government is “considering designating fracking sites as nationally important infrastructure, potentially cutting out local communities and breaking a leadership election promise”. Citing “those familiar with” the plans, the paper says discussions have included the possibility of “pushing through sites without local approval by designating them as nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIPs)”. This means they would bypass normal local planning requirements, the paper notes, which are designations that “usually apply to infrastructure such as roads, airports and energy sites”. Mark Menzies, the Conservative MP for Fylde in Lancashire, where fracking took place before ministers halted the practice in 2019, tells the Guardian in a separate article that using the NSIP system would explicitly breach Truss’s promise during her Tory leadership campaign that drilling would only happen with local approval. He added: “Let’s hope we don’t get into the territory of people feeling they’ve been told one thing and another thing happens.” The paper also reports that “licences for fracking encroach on some of the most environmentally protected areas in England, including national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty”. Bloomberg says that the local support that is a requirement for any new drilling “is nowhere to be seen”.

The Sun, Politico, Reuters, BusinessGreen and the i newspaper all have the story, while Carbon Brief has updated its recent factcheck on why fracking is not the answer to the UK’s energy crisis.

Plans to block new North Sea oil and gas projects if they are incompatible with the UK’s climate goals “have quietly been ditched”, reports the Times, “prompting accusations that ministers are watering down their climate change policies”. The paper explains: “The scheme was first floated in March last year, in the run-up to the COP26 climate summit, as a middle ground that stopped short of blocking new oil and gas licences entirely but reflected the need to curb carbon emissions from new production. However, officials yesterday confirmed that three of six proposed tests would not apply.” Those tests include those based on “scope 3” emissions, generated from the burning of fossil fuels; whether the additional oil and gas would endanger the goals of the Paris Agreement; and “how much companies were investing in clean energy”, the paper says. It adds: “The changes will mean a much lower bar for the oil and gas companies hoping to win new licences, and will not apply to existing North Sea projects. The last licensing round was in 2019.” Oil and gas companies said the decision would ensure “more control over our own economy” and make the UK “less dependent on other countries”, reports the Daily Telegraph. The paper also quotes Philip Evans, energy security campaigner for Greenpeace UK, who said: “New licences torpedo the UK’s energy security…They take decades to get going, and the fuels will just be sold to the highest bidder on the international market – doing nothing to lower bills here in the UK.“ Evans added that Greenpeace was was now considering whether to launch legal action against the government.

Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph also reports that the latest forecasts by energy analysts LCP that suggest Britain’s power supplies “risk running short for 10 hours this winter if it is unable to import power from the continent”. The paper notes that “LCP’s analysis contrasts with National Grid Electricity System Operator, which said in a provisional forecast published early in July that electricity supplies are at risk of running short for only six minutes this winter”. And Reuters reports that German energy firm Uniper said yesterday it would keep open a unit at its Ratcliffe coal power station in the UK to help shore up electricity supplies this winter.

Finally, BBC News reports that some Conservative MPs in rural areas “have raised concerns about the support given to households who use oil or liquefied petroleum gas to heat their homes”. It explains: “Ministers said off-grid energy consumers would receive an extra payment of £100 as they announced support for businesses on Wednesday. The £100 is a top-up to a £400 payment, which is going to all UK households. But off-grid energy consumers will not benefit from the two-year cap on typical household bills.” The outlet says that “many MPs questioned whether the support was comparable” and that some said that they would raise the issue in a meeting with chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng. And the Independent reports that analysis of the government’s £450m Boiler Upgrade Scheme (BUS) – introduced in March 2022 to incentivise people to replace their old gas boilers with low-carbon heating options – suggests that “taxpayer funds are being diverted away from areas with high levels of fuel poverty to wealthier regions”.

In continuing coverage of the climate change views of World Bank president David Malpass, Politico reports that he said in a note to staff yesterday that it is “clear” that humans are causing the planet to heat up by emitting greenhouse gases. The note was sent “following heavy criticism of his appearance at a New York Times event on Tuesday, when he dodged repeated questions about the science of climate change”, the outlet explains. In the note, Malpass wrote: “On climate, it’s clear that greenhouse gas emissions from human activities are causing climate change, and that the sharp increase in the use of coal, diesel, and heavy fuel oil in both advanced economies and developing countries is creating another wave of the climate crisis. Anything seen in a different light is incorrect and regrettable.“ When asked by Politico if he maintained confidence in Malpass, Merza Hasan, the dean of the World Bank board and its executive director, said the bank took climate change “seriously”. He added: “In fact, we did and [are] doing a lot when it comes to the global climate agenda.”

In further attempts to “reverse course on the remarks”, Malpass told CNN that it was “clear that greenhouse gas emissions are coming from man-made sources”, and that he was “not a denier”, reports Financial Times. The New York Times also reports Malpass’s comments and note, adding: “World Bank staff members exchanged text messages lamenting how Mr Malpass bungled his initial response on Tuesday and expressing disappointment that he had undercut the bank’s work on climate initiatives, according to people familiar with the matter.” Climate Home News, the Independent and Reuters also have the story.

The head of the International Energy Agency (IEA) has warned European countries against a scramble for energy security this winter that threatens to shatter EU unity and trigger social unrest, reports the Financial Times. In an interview at the inaugural Global Clean Energy Action Forum in Pittsburgh, Fatih Birol said he feared “a wild west scenario” if European countries restricted their own trade or stopped collaborating with neighbours amid mounting anxieties about fuel shortages. He continued: “The implications will be very bad for energy, very bad for the economy, but extremely bad politically…If Europe fails this test in energy, it can go beyond energy implications.”

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that European Union member states “are racing to clinch a political agreement within weeks that would impose a price cap on Russian oil”. It adds: “The push has gained steam since President Vladimir Putin announced a ‘partial mobilisation’ of troops in an escalation of Russia’s war in Ukraine and will likely feature as part of a new a package of sanctions to be proposed by the European Commission, according to people familiar with the matter. A cap would align the EU with a US effort to keep the cost of crude from soaring and to hit Moscow’s revenue.” Bloomberg also reports that Russia has set out just how much its gas flows to the global market will fall in the next three years, “and the numbers underscore the scale of the challenge facing Europe’s energy consumers”. Under the three-year plan, seen by the newswire, “annual pipeline gas exports are set to drop by almost 40% to 125.2bn cubic meters in 2023-25”. It adds: “Pipeline gas exports is estimated at 142bn cubic meters this year, the draft showed.”

Elsewhere, the Financial Times reports that “European authorities have played down their ability to intervene in the region’s derivatives markets to help stretched energy companies after privately admitting energy price volatility was not due to the ‘market malfunctioning’”. It adds: “The conclusions will come as a blow to EU capitals, which had been looking at ways to intervene in Europe’s energy markets to tackle six months of volatile and soaring prices. The cost of buying and selling gas, electricity and power has fluctuated wildly since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and been exacerbated by water droughts across the continent and the breakdown of around half of France’s nuclear fleet, raising the cost for households and businesses.” Reuters also has the story.

In other European news, DeSmog analysis suggests that “Italy’s lurch to the right raises risk of fossil gas lock-in”. The Financial Times reports on how the energy crisis is putting “producers of toilet paper under intense pressure”. It notes that “some have already gone under or cut production, and economists fear the broader impact on industry and growth”. And the Economist looks at whether Europe can decarbonise its heavy industry. It says “yes, though it won’t be easy”.

A year after Chinese president Xi Jinping “promised China would stop building coal power plants overseas”, the country has “completed 14 such facilities beyond its borders and will finish another 27 soon”, Bloomberg writes, according to a new report. Most of the projects that “were in progress” when Xi made the announcement are “in limbo”, but the recently or soon-to-be completed plants will “emit about 140m tonnes of CO2 a year in total”, the outlet adds, citing a report by the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air and People of Asia for Climate Solutions, a research organisation.

China Dialogue has published an analysis on the progress and prospects of China’s commitment to “stop new overseas coal power”. It says that in the year since the “coal withdrawal” commitment, China’s relevant government departments, financial institutions and “major” energy construction companies have been “actively” exploring ways to “expand” the share of renewable energy in overseas projects at “all levels, including policy, diplomacy and specific project construction”. It adds that among the renewable energy investment and construction projects that China will participate in from 2021-22, hydro energy projects account for “the highest percentage (56%), followed by photovoltaic and wind energy projects”. Additionally, the South China Morning Post has published an opinion piece by Cecilia Han Springer, the assistant director of the Global China Initiative at the Boston University Global Development Policy Centre, who writes: “One year on, China has made significant progress towards turning Xi’s promise [of stopping building new coal-fired power plants overseas] into reality. The challenge is to implement these policies fully and efficiently to match the scale of finance needed for the global energy transition.”

Meanwhile, Al Jazeera writes that China has “accused” some European nations of a “backswing” in the implementation of “urgent” climate change goals as “geopolitical turmoil grips the continent”. It notes that, according to a summary of the meeting released by China’s environment ministry, during a video conference on Wednesday with the German climate envoy Jennifer Morgan, China’s special climate envoy Xie Zhenhua said: “The climate policies of some European countries have shown a backswing and it is hoped that this is just a temporary stopgap.” China, the world’s “biggest” carbon emitter, is “expected to focus on the issue of financing” at this year’s global UN climate talks, COP27, the article adds. Additionally, Quartz says that as Europe “scrambles to cut its dependence” on Russia, it “risks further entrenching its reliance on another authoritarian country – China – for solar panels, in its push to tap alternative energy sources”. The article adds that, according to Chinese customs data, the value of solar panels sold to the EU from January to August this year “totals over $16bn, more than double the $7.2bn over the same period last year”.

Elsewhere, Chinese state councillor and foreign minister Wang Yi has made “four-point proposals in addressing the global climate change” at the UN General Assembly in New York, stressing that “countries should not abandon the efforts in energy restructuring because of the Covid-19 outbreak or the energy crisis and developed countries should achieve carbon neutrality significantly in advance, making room for developing countries”, reports the the state-run newspaper Global Times. The state news agency Xinhua also covers the story, pointing out the fourth point made by Wang is “to create a fine political environment…Unilateralism, geopolitical games and green barriers should be abandoned.”

India plans to expand its coal power fleet “by about a quarter through the end of the decade”, reports Bloomberg, based on an interview with the country’s power minister RK Singh. Singh said India plans to add “nearly 56 gigawatts (GW) of coal power capacity unless there’s a substantial drop in the cost of storing electricity” and that India “will not hesitate to import coal” to meet shortfalls, adding that “my bottom line is I will not compromise with my growth.” According to the story, his ministry is still “pursuing a goal of having 500GW of clean power capacity” and plans to “nearly double its generation capacity from all sources to 820GW” by 2030. These specific quantitative targets are missing from India’s climate pledge updated last month that Carbon Brief analysed. Singh is quoted as saying his ministry is seeking investment “that combines wind and solar power with storage”, blamed developed countries for “not investing enough in storage technology” and pointed out that “China controlling the bulk of the world’s lithium supplies is a concern”.

Meanwhile, Reuters carried a piece headlined: “India’s Russian thermal coal imports set to fall for [the] first time in 4 months”. An anonymous government source told Reuters that since the start of the war, India’s coal imports from Russia rose to $2.4bn, with trade volumes rising “despite a decline in overall Indian imports of the fuel” in the last 2 months, but analysts and traders say that “logistical issues” have hampered trade in September.

Senate Republicans in the US are lining up against the “permitting reform bill” that senator Joe Manchin unveiled on Wednesday evening, shortly before it is to be added to a must-pass government funding bill scheduled for the floor next week, reports the Hill. It continues: “As a result, key Republicans say a stopgap funding bill with Manchin’s language reforming the permitting process for energy projects will not have enough support to pass. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer promised to attach Manchin’s permitting bill to a short-term government funding measure in exchange for Manchin’s vote last month for the Inflation Reduction Act…But now it looks like Manchin’s bill is doomed because of growing opposition from Republicans, who say it doesn’t go far enough.” The Guardian notes that “scientists, health experts and environmental groups have condemned” the bill as it will “fast-track major energy projects by gutting clean water and environmental protections”. The Independent reports that activists were arrested yesterday while protesting the bill on Capitol Hill. The New York Times says: “It is the latest chapter in long-running tensions between Mr. Manchin and liberal Democrats, who have bristled at how the West Virginian has used his swing vote in the evenly divided Senate to scuttle or whittle down President Biden’s agenda and, when he has agreed to go along, demanded hefty concessions for doing so.” Politico says that “time is rapidly running out to reach a compromise”. The Atlantic notes that one benefit of the bill would be that it “will likely make it easier, faster and cheaper for the country to build the kind of major new transmission lines that climate change requires”.

New analysis suggests that carbon emissions in the Amazon region in 2019 and 2020 more than doubled compared to the average of the previous eight years, reports BBC News. It continues: Deforestation for agriculture and fires were the main drivers of the increase, according to the authors. The scientists say that a ‘collapse’ in law enforcement in recent years has encouraged forest clearing.“ The findings “have been submitted for publication but have yet to be independently reviewed”, the outlet notes.

Elsewhere, the Guardian reports on an investigation – by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism – showing that cattle raised on disputed Indigenous territory in Brazil has “ended up at an abattoir linked to a global supply chain that includes the food and drink company Nestlé – which uses beef in baby food, pet food and seasoning”. It adds: “Other major companies in this supply chain have included McDonald’s and Burger King.” The findings “raise fresh concerns about the impact of the beef trade on the world’s largest rainforest – a vital buffer against climate change – and cast doubt on industry pledges to monitor supply chains and combat deforestation”, the paper says.

Responding to the UK government’s announcements yesterday on fracking and oil and gas licensing, an editorial in the Daily Mirror says that business secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg has “ignored valid concerns that fracking will cause earthquakes, increase pollution and damage the environment”. It continues: “To the anger of many Tory MPs, he also signalled that he was prepared to override objections by local communities. Instead of gambling on an unproven policy, the government should invest in renewables that will create jobs and reduce emissions.” Other papers are happier with the government’s U-turn on fracking. An editorial in the Sun praises the government’s “brave leadership” and criticises the political left for “exhuming their tired old Russian-backed falsehoods about fracking”. An editorial in the Daily Mail says “it has sympathy with communities which fear their quality of life may be hit by noise and pollution from fracking”. But, it adds, “the government is right to lift the ban on extracting shale gas and review the tremor limits. As well as supplying cheap energy, fracking could provide many thousands of jobs”. The Daily Mail also allocates a full page to Matt Ridley – a climate-sceptic former Conservative hereditary peer who oversaw the collapse of Northern Rock bank and owns land which has been mined for coal. Ignoring the numerous surveys showing that fracking is unpopular with the public, Ridley writes that “we don’t really know what locals think because the opposition to shale gas in Britain came largely from outsiders and was both highly emotive and highly inaccurate”.

In related comment, Guardian columnist Gaby Hinsliff responds to the open letter from “100 big corporate names from Ikea to Amazon, Coco-Cola and Sky…urging the government not to backtrack on net-zero”. She writes: “It would be naive to imagine that big polluters aren’t already lobbying this new government to water down some net-zero policies, or that plenty of companies didn’t have tweaks they’d like to make. But there is a surprisingly big swathe of business that would be rattled by a sudden change of direction now.” Guardian columnist Zoe Williams writes: “There has never been a better time to move decisively away from fossil fuels and towards renewables; there has never been a better time for green investment than when carbon has priced itself out of the market; there has never been a riper time to make the argument that climate must take priority; there has never been a more stagnant time, waiting for a second Industrial Revolution.” John Burn-Murdoch – chief data reporter at the Financial Times – explains why “economics may take us to net-zero all on its own”. He writes: “In 2009, coal was still an attractive option for countries looking for affordable energy, its average costs coming in well below renewables. But by 2020, both wind and solar had become far cheaper per unit of energy. In some markets, capital-intensive new installations even worked out cheaper than existing coal plants.” And Guardian columnist George Monbiot warns that UK prime minister Liz Truss is “in hock to a group of rightwing lobbyists who are themselves indebted to oligarchs and corporations”.

Finally, for the Daily Mail, climate-sceptic columnist Richard Littlejohn imagines what King Charles’s “low-carbon coronation” might look like.

Writing in the Times Red Box, filmmaker Richard Curtis and COP26 president Alok Sharma warn that the world’s forests are being “lost at an alarming rate”. They write: “From the Congo to the Amazon to the Boreal forests of the north, forests are being threatened at a terrifying rate, risking nature, damaging livelihoods, and driving food and water insecurity for billions of people.” At the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow last year, “presidents and prime ministers from every major forest region stood together to commit to action”, they say: “We cannot afford to let this slip away from us — which is why these governments are working in partnership to make sure we revisit this ambition year on year.” Emphasising the importance of finance, Curtis and Sharma say: “That is why this week in New York, we are working together as governments, businesses and civil society to grow a movement of banks, investors, and pension funds to address this urgent issue, and ensure our financial system helps reverse global forest loss. By tackling deforestation in their investments, financial institutions can play a critical role in ending practises that damage nature, and redirect their resources to actions which protect forests and support livelihoods.” They conclude: “So, it’s time for an emergency global movement to make our money matter and mobilise investment in forests, combined with the growing economic opportunities presented by nature-positive investments.”

In related news, BusinessGreen reports that Sharma “today called on world leaders attending the UN General Assembly in New York this week to join the launch of the Forests and Climate Leaders’ Partnership (FCLP) at the upcoming UN Climate Summit, which takes place in Egypt this autumn”.

Restoring the Aral Sea to twice its current extent could reduce the maximum temperature of the surrounding region by more than 1.5C, according to new research. Using a regional climate model, scientists compared how restoring the Aral Sea to different past extents would affect temperatures through the year 2050. They find that if the sea is kept in its current state – which is just 10% of its historic area – the daily maximum temperature will rise by more than 0.9C, while minimum temperatures will rise by 1.2C. However, restoring the sea will increase the amount of evaporation and the accompanying latent heat loss, cooling the surrounding region.

A new study finds that the specific conditions that form a heatwave can alter the number of illnesses and deaths that occur as a result. Researchers examine meteorological, hospital admission and death data in Spain over 2013-19. They find that while deaths were similar regardless of how the heatwave formed, heatwaves that formed due to stagnant air caused a greater number of hospital admissions than heatwaves that occurred due to an inflow of hot air from the Sahara. The authors write: “Based on these findings, we strongly recommend prevention plans to include data on the meteorological situation originating the heatwave.”

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