A report on fracking in England has been released by the National Audit Office today. Whilst the report does not seek to pass comment on the government’s policy or approach to fracking, it does, however, raise some crucial findings on the validity of pursuing this climate-damaging fossil fuel further.

Some of the most concerning points stated in the report include public spending:

  • The costs to the taxpayers’ purse has topped £32 million, and that is a vast underestimation. This figure includes £13.4 million which was spent by three police forces on managing protests around shale gas sites. It does not include the cost of legal appeals, judicial reviews, or the time and expenses of civil servants working on these cases.
  • Public acceptance of fracking from a community perspective. The government’s own public attitudes survey shows that opposition to fracking has almost doubled between 2013 to 2019, from 21% to 40%. The concerns of residents and the general public have centred on environmental impacts and public health risks, due to the lack of adequate regulations – this has been evidenced from Lancashire, where Cuadrilla Resources caused fracking-induced earthquakes over 0.5 magnitude, with the most recent resulting in an earthquake of 2.9 magnitude in August 2019.
  • No requirement on any public body or the operator to monitor the well for any leakages or emissions
  • Clean-up costs: who is actually liable? The government have no solid answers or legislation on this serious issue.
  • No progression in 10 years with the fracking industry – they are still

With hundreds of reports of structural damage received in Lancashire following Cuadrilla’s series of earthquakes, and the largest on 24 August 2019 measuring 2.9ML, the risks of seismicity from fracking cannot be mitigated. Cuadrilla was also reported to be sending out public relations staff to assess the damage, and not building surveyors. It has also been claimed that Cuadrilla has refused to accept liability in many of these cases of damage. This provokes a serious question of liability for any fracking clean-up costs, which is likely to fall to taxpayers. Additionally, landowners could be pursued by the Environment Agency for costs should the oil and gas company in operation cease to exists, however, this route is untested thus renders damage and clean-up liability still to be an unknown quantity.

Joe Corré, Head of Talk Fracking, said:

“This is more doublethink to come from the government. A report which condemns fracking is at the same time still offering a faint flame of government support for the rapidly dying shale gas industry.

“Shale investors are finding it very difficult to give up the ghost. Unfortunately, their friends in government are still keeping it on life support despite all the science and public opinion giving a fatal prognosis for England. Fracking is over.”

Steve Mason from Frack Free United, said:

“What we have here is a truly independent verification of the facts and questions posed by the anti-fracking campaign. This report has exposed the fragilities of the government’s policy on fracking, leaving so many unanswered questions. The government has no idea how much gas they can extract, what the economic benefits are and they do not have the technologies available to limit emissions if we frack.

“It is highly likely that taxpayers will have to pay for the clean-up costs. Anyone reading this report must surely be thinking: “What on earth is going on? How can the government support this industry that is fast becoming more fantasy than facts?” We advocate an urgent ban on this dirty fossil fuel industry.”

Gina Dowding MEP commented on the report and said:

“I think the first thing that the public would be interested in this report from the National Audit Office is what is actually going to happen to energy prices. What is clear is that the NAO has finally called out the cheap gas prices myth and that energy prices are not expected to fall: that’s because the shale gas industry cannot be easily compared to the North American model both because of difficult geology here and how our communities are much more densely populated.

“Aside from the myriad issues surrounding fracking, to even think of progressing with a new fossil fuel industry during a climate emergency, is nothing short of stupidity.”

Nick Danby from Frack Free Lancashire said:

“This report from the National Audit Office reveals what we have always suspected: this government’s support for fracking is ill-considered, reckless and based upon ideology rather than cold, hard facts. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) appears to have little idea as to how much gas there is, how much is recoverable and what is the potential contribution to the UK energy mix.

“It is very worrying that our government should have such little regard for facts and figures and it is especially concerning that it should continue to champion a new fossil fuel industry in the face of the threat of climate breakdown. We urge the government to stop subsidising fossil fuels and to ban fracking with immediate effect.”

Wera Hobhouse, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Climate Change said:

“We can make all or nearly all our electricity from renewables by 2030. There is no place for fossil fuels in the power sector after then. By continuing to support fracking, the Conservatives demonstrate they are the party that delays climate action.”

A spokeswoman from Preston New Road Action Group, the residents’ campaign group closest to Cuadrilla’s site, said:

“This report demonstrates that the cost-benefit case for shale gas has not been made satisfactorily. It is not clear how much shale gas can be extracted and without this knowledge, the benefits cannot be fully calculated. The technologies to manage risk from emissions are still not available. There could also be a huge cost burden on taxpayers in the future if they have to fund the decommissioning of sites.

“However, from the fracking that has taken place to date, some of the dis-benefits such as earthquakes and greenhouse gas emissions have been proven. Shale gas extraction just does not appear to have a sound business case.”

Maureen Mills from Halsall Against Fracking said:

“This analysis is totally bewildering in that it reveals in one place the extent of the gross negligence by a government department.  It confirms all the fears, and more, of local communities who have educated themselves about fracking and have witnessed Cuadrilla’s ineptitude on the Fylde with incredulity.

“It confirms the impotence of the so-called regulators that we were assured would ensure “Gold Standard” regulation.  Unforgivably, the very clear climate change impacts of leakages and emissions have completely bypassed the BEIS despite the scientific evidence. Surely in the face of this concise and damning report, the unprecedented and mounting public opposition to fracking will now be given due weight against industry favours from government?”

The only fracking site that is currently ‘operational’, is Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site in Lancashire. The site, having been shut down by the government, following the 26 August Bank Holiday Monday earthquake measuring 2.9ML, awaits a review by the Oil and Gas Authority. Preston New Road is currently being stripped daily of hydraulic equipment and supporting heavy kit.

Fracking in England appears to have just received its final stamped certification by the NAO, to be confined to the bin forever. You can download the report here: Fracking for shale gas in England report-2