Kwasi Kwarteng: Government ‘will take a precautionary approach’ on shale gas

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The Government’s position on fracking remains unchanged, Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has told MPs, adding that exploration would be carried out if it were “safe and sustainable”.

Mr Kwarteng faced calls from MPs to clarify ministers’ stance on hydraulic fracturing for gas in England, amid the move to punish Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine by the phasing out of Russian oil.

Labour called for the Government to maintain the moratorium against fracking, with shadow secretary for climate change, Ed Miliband, asking: “Will he confirm that the moratorium that was put in place will remain in place, no ifs, no buts, as fracking would not make any difference to the prices consumers pay, is dangerous, and would take decades to come on stream.”

Responding to a question in the Commons from Labour MP Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East), Mr Kwarteng replied: “I will be very clear. I actually funnily enough, I was a minister at the time this written ministerial statement on fracking, hydraulic fracturing, was made. ‘The Government has always been clear that we will take a precautionary approach and support shale gas exploration if it can be done in a safe and sustainable way’. That remains our position.”

Energy prices
Shadow business secretary Ed Miliband (PA)

Mr Kwarteng replied: “In conversation with the Prime Minister, we were clear that it didn’t necessarily make any sense to concrete over the wells.

“We are still in conversation about that and as I have said our position from the moratorium has always been the same, if it can be done in a safe and sustainable way, the Government is open to the idea of fracking.”

Conservative former minister Robert Jenrick said the UK needed to “brace ourselves for the greatest impact on living standards that any of us have known” adding that a “more pragmatic approach to energy policy” was needed, including “potentially” lifting a moratorium on onshore wind, and “looking again” at fracking.

But Conservative Alexander Stafford (Rother Valley) branded fracking a “red herring”.

Mr Kwarteng replied: “We’ve always had an open mind, we’ve always said and I repeat that we will support shale gas exploration if can be done in a safe and sustainable way and we will be led by the science on whether this is indeed possible.”

Mr Kwarteng told MPs a new taskforce on oil will support companies during this year to “find alternative supplies”.

Making a statement on the UK phasing out of imports of Russian oil in response to Vladimir Putin’s “brutal and illegal invasion” of Ukraine, he said: “Yesterday I set out that the UK is phasing out imports of Russian oil during the course of the year. This transition will give the market, it’ll give businesses and supply chains more than enough time to substitute Russian imports.

“Businesses should use this year to ensure as smooth a transition as possible so that consumers will not be affected. The Government will work with companies through a new taskforce on oil to support them to make use of this period in finding alternative supplies.”

Mr Kwarteng told MPs: “The British Government has sent a clear message to (Vladimir) Putin’s regime and to those who support him in his war against Ukraine. It is important to remember that Russia produces only a fraction of the fuel products currently imported to the UK.”

Mr Miliband said while Labour fully supported the Government’s decision to band Russian oil imports, he warned the UK is “exposed” to increasing wholesale gas prices.

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