George Osborne’s father-in-law attacks Coalition over support for fracking, saying they are “much too optimistic” about the benefits of shale gas and attempts to “bribe and cajole” rural communities will fail
The Government’s drive for fracking is losing the Tories thousands of votes, George Osborne’s father-in-law has said, launching a withering attack on ministers’ attempts to “bribe and cajole” rural communities.
Lord Howell of Guildford, the former Tory energy secretary, said the Coalition’s strategy for shale gas was “seriously flawed” and could prove “extremely dangerous politically”.
In article for the Journal of Energy Security, the peer, who caused controversy last summer by suggesting fracking should take place in “desolate” parts of the north, warned: “Every time ministers open their mouths to claim that fracking must start everywhere around Britain, and not just in carefully selected and remote (derelict) areas, they lose thousands of Tory votes.”
His comments come as ministers prepare to offer up vast swathes of Britain to energy companies to explore for shale gas and oil, which they have suggested could lower household energy bills.
They are also preparing to publish a study by the British Geological Survey showing large quantities of shale oil beneath the Tory heartlands of southern England.
Ministers have backed energy company attempts to win support of local communities by offering them £100,000 for every well that is fracked, and a one per cent share of revenues.
But Lord Howell dismissed such efforts. “Spending time and money trying to bribe and cajole rural communities is a complete waste, as well as putting backs up and losing rural votes on a major scale,” he wrote. “Villages and their environs where homes are worth a million will be unimpressed by £100k offers, and by assurances that ‘only’ two years of heavy truck traffic will disturb them.”
Lord Howell said he supported “doing everything to get commercial fracking started” but urged against “starting in the wrong places and with misleading statements about timing and effect”.
He said that “the view coming out from ministers is much too optimistic and could prove extremely dangerous politically when the reality unfolds”.
Mr Osborne, whose wife Frances is Lord Howell’s daughter, has spearheaded the Coalition’s drive for shale gas exploration in Britain in an attempt to emulate the revolution in the US, where shale gas has seen prices fall to rock-bottom levels.
“We don’t want British families and businesses to be left behind as gas prices tumble on the other side of the Atlantic,” the Chancellor has said.
But in comments that stand in stark contrast to those of his son-in-law, Lord Howell wrote: “The American experience, which was anyway full of problems and delays before it finally took off, cannot be repeated in the totally different conditions here.”
Lord Howell reiterated his controversial suggestion from last summer that fracking should take place in desolate parts, which he suggested are in northern England.
“Trying to start in Southern England, and in the Home Counties, or in rural and countryside areas anywhere, north or south, is a guarantee of longer delays, higher costs and increased hostility from both green left and countryside right,” he said.
Lord Howell suggested that remote and “derelict” areas could be found “in the north east, the north west and all the places where the industrial revolution has left the worst historical scars”. “They have the gas and they have the local wish to see fracking investment – to upgrade old coal mining areas, for example,” he said.