Fracking Fail - Blame Brexit
As a way of negotiating, Monaco-resident Sir Jim Ratcliffe pleading for the loosening of regulations aimed at protecting communities near fracking sites is up there with Donald Tusk’s targeted barbs at hard line Brexiteers.
And that’s not where the similarity ends. As the problem the UK onshore gas developers – including Sir Jim’s Ineos and the anti-frackers’ favourite bete noire Cuadrilla – are having getting their point across in Westminster is directly related to the muddle this Government has got itself into over Brexit.
Anyone who has any dealings with Government at the moment is complaining about two things primarily:
The Brexit farce is taking up so much parliamentary, political and civil service time that there is little left to deal with other major issues;
Theresa May’s administration lacks any political capital and so is massively risk averse.
This has a massive bearing on energy policy and fracking in particular. Under David Cameron energy and climate change had its own department, led by LibDem Ed Davie, who had a genuine passion for the subject matter. Under May that department was folded into the Business Innovation and Skills behemoth under Greg Clark, a Cabinet minister who stays so far under the radar that colleagues probably struggle to recognise him. The energy brief is currently held by Claire Perry, who likes to present herself as a May loyalist, no doubt in the hope of promotion.
Neither minister, nor indeed their ultimate boss, is going to stick their neck out for a fracking industry that is almost as unpopular within the Tory party as it is under Labour, which has a stated policy opposing it.
The scene was set when Clark held up awarding a fracking licence to Third Energy, which operates in North Yorkshire where it is supported by its local council, because of overblown concerns about its financial position.
Against that background Cuadrilla starts fracking, and immediately breaches the seismicity restrictions agreed to by the industry when Sir Michael Fallon (remember him) was energy minister. To be fair, there was always a nod and a wink that these rules would be revised.
However, that was then, and this is now. Asking a skittish Government publicly for favours for an unpopular industry in a febrile atmosphere is never going to work. The industry should have kept its counsel and tried to work through the backdoor corridors of power. As it is nothing is likely to happen until Brexit is sorted – if it ever is.