A Minister Cosied Up to the Pro-Fracking Industry at Tory Conference

Energy Minister Claire Perry MP dismissed fracking protesters as a "shouty few" at a fringe event.

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Oct 10 2018, 11:19am

Anti fracking campaigners hold a demonstration outside the prison where three campaigners, Richard Loizou, Richard Roberts and Simon Blevins, are been held after receiving prison sentences for action they took at Preston New Road where fracking is due to take place. Preston, UK: 6th of October 2018. (Barbara Cook/Alamy Live News)

If you’ve read the news about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report released on Monday, saying that we are running out of time to avert “climate catastrophe”, you may be knee deep in clickbait listicles about why you have to become a vegan and upgrade to energy efficient appliances right now. If only the government had that same sense of all encompassing dread.

According to the report, we need "rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society" to keep global warming to 1.5C, which is a sort of less-bad option compared to 3C, where we’re headed now, which will see extreme weather, ocean acidification, crop failures, less water availability, and so on: basically a load of stuff too scary to get your head around. But the window for action is still open, just.

Meanwhile, in the here and now, the first fracking operation in the UK in seven years starts this week, and Energy Minister Claire Perry has reportedly told Tory MPs in a letter that she might relax the rules on stopping fracking operations that cause earthquakes. Perry’s letter might come as a surprise to those naïve people who thought that a massive threat to human life would alter government policy, but if you were at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham last week, you might know better.

The Tax Payers Alliance hosted a fringe panel sponsored by UKOOG (United Kingdom Onshore Oil and Gas) – "The UK voice for onshore oil and gas" – called “Energy security: Is shale gas better for Britain?”. Ken Cronin, Chief Executive of UKOOG, said he envisaged 400 fracking sites across Britain so that we don’t have to import gas from the damn Ruskies.

Protesters against fracking for fossil fuels (or was it Brexit?) were audible from outside the conference grounds, but Perry said, “I’m not going to make energy policy based on the demands of a shouty few when I could be thinking about energy security and price security for the many."

“You would imagine from the level of protesting that you hear and see that this was something where the British public has made up its mind. [The reality is] very far from that,” she said. But if the public don’t give you the answer you want? Just stop asking. In August the government removed a question about fracking from a regular opinion surveys.

As well as the consistent negative opinion of general public, the “shouty few” presumably includes the 80 percent of Tory councillors in areas where fracking companies have a license to drill and explore for gas, who believe that planning applications should be required before drilling. But it’s much easier to listen to corporate lobbyists from the comfort of a sponsored event.

Perry’s attitude towards public opinion must have been reassuring to the assembled frackers, who might have worried that fears over Mother Nature's terrifying reckoning would impact their investment plans. Not to worry, lads.

Energy Minister Claire Perry (Mark Kerrison/Alamy Live News)

Elsewhere, there was an awkward moment at an event hosted by Policy Exchange and sponsored by Drax Power, owners of Drax power station, Britain's largest, in North Yorkshire. After some amiable chat from the panel about carbon-capture, Sasha Stashwick from the Natural Resources Defense Council, an American NGO, asked about recent Channel 4 Dispatches revelations that huge areas of hardwood forests in Virginia are being chopped down to create "green" bio-mass pellets for Drax power station. Ideally, the pellets would be waste-wood, so that you're not, uh, felling loads of old woodland to... save the planet?

Burning the pellets – produced by US firm Enviva then shipped to the UK – is supposed to reduce carbon emissions compared to coal by more than 80 percent. But Dispatches found that to generate the same amount of energy, you would actually end up producing more carbon.

Drax CEO Andy Koss answered that he'd recently visited those forests recently – or what's left of them – and had been "very comforted… around how we are looking after those forests, how those forests are re-growing.” So that’s OK then!

The Dispatches investigation was not the first time concerns have been raised about hardwood US forests being chopped down for UK “green” power plants – investigators and journalists have been sounding the alarm since 2013. The forests can be replaced, but that takes decades, by which time those of us not yet victim of a biblical flood will probably be living under some sort of horrible eco-fascist rationing regime.

Nevertheless Claire Perry almost pulled a muscle leaping to the defence of Drax, chiming in, “I absolutely accept the work Andy’s done and the good thing about having big responsible partners is that they take this corporate reasonability seriously.” She then rapidly changed the subject from the UK’s biggest power station onto the eco-crimes of household bio-fuel boilers. “I am satisfied with what Drax has done but I think there are some practices out there particularly in the domestic supply chain that don’t’ stand up to such scrutiny,” she flannelled.

Addressing embarrassing revelations about its environmental record was perhaps not what Drax had in mind when they stumped up for the event, but they probably took some comfort from having such an obliging minister on hand.

Jim Skea, a co-chair of the working group on mitigation behind the IPCC's report has said: “We show it can be done within laws of physics and chemistry. Then the final tick box is political will. We cannot answer that. Only our audience can – and that is the governments that receive it.” With the government so keen to keep the greenhouse-gas emitting big-business onside, that political will might be difficult to come by.

@SimonChilds13

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