George HW Bush was perhaps the most blatant perpetrator of an election “false truth” when, during the presidential campaign in 1988, he said: “Read my lips, no new taxes.” When he was elected he (of course) raised the old taxes. The electorate didn’t forgive him for his slight of mouth, and ditched him in favour of Bill Clinton four years later.
To try and win over the environmental vote, the Conservatives spin machine did something similar on Friday. It leaked that the Government was banning fracking, and justified the volte face by referring to a (at that point unpublished) report by the Oil & Gas Authority which business secretary Andrea Leadsom said was “clear we cannot rule out future unacceptable impacts on the local community.”
It is perhaps churlish of me to point out to Mrs Leadsom, someone who wasn’t exactly precise with her own CV, that you can never rule out an “impact” as it is a “risk” and risks can only really be mitigated, not eradicated.
But more substantially, on Saturday when Mrs Leadsom “clarified” her position and the OGA report was eventually released, two things became apparent:
This was not a ban, it was merely another moratorium, just as fracking was suspended when Cuadrilla previously caused a seismic shock of more that 2 points on the Richter scale in the same part of Lancashire a few years back;
The OGA report doesn’t exactly say when Mrs Leadsom claims.
Call me a boring pendant, but I’ve spent the weekend actually reading the OGA report.
Firstly, it is merely a report into Cuadrilla’s operations at Preston New Road – which is fair enough as that’s the only fracking game in town. But the OGA does make it clear that this is not directly applicable to the rest of the country, which is what Mrs Leadsom implied.
Secondly, while the ODA does conclude: “For future operations, the possibility of larger events could not be excluded and these could cause damage and disturbance unacceptable under the current BEIS policy guidance” it also says – in the next line: “The methods for predicting event maximum and magnitude need further testing and cannot be viewed as reliable for PNR [Preston New Road].” In other words – don’t hang your hat on these findings even on this limited scale. The OGA then points out that its study is a review of four reports that are not complete and “should be considered interim reports”. It then adds the review of the data and literature should be concluded by the end of 2019.
This does rather smack of when Boris Johnson was caught out not having read the paragraph of the General Agreement of Tariffs and Trade (GATT) directly after the one he quoted.
This also suggests that the Conservatives have jumped the gun on an unfinished report. Why would they do that? Well the election is on 12 December and purdah – when no Government business can be concluded – starts this week. If they’d waited for the facts to be finalised they wouldn’t have achieved the politically helpful headlines of a frack ban. This leaves the Tories lots of wriggle room to resume fracking if they get back into power.
Read my lips – no new fracking.