Labour leader’s comments come after minister suggests halt may only be temporary
Calls are growing for the next government to make the suspension of fracking in England permanent after a minister suggested the halt to exploration may only be temporary.
The government announced an immediate moratorium on fracking on Friday in a major U-turn after the Oil and Gas Authority said in a report that it was unable to predict the magnitude of any earthquakes triggered by hydraulic fracturing. One in August measured 2.9 on the Richter scale.
Jeremy Corbyn described the move as “greenwash” and an election stunt. “I think it sounds like fracking would come back on 13 December, if they were elected back into office,” the Labour leader said on Saturday.
“We’re quite clear, we will end fracking. We think it’s unnecessary, we think it’s pollutive of ground water systems, and also all the evidence from Preston New Road in Lancashire is it’s actually dangerous and has caused serious earth tremors.”
The Liberal Democrat leader, Jo Swinson, described the announcement as “a bit of a distraction”. “A moratorium is half a step in the right direction, but at the end of the day this is a government that has abolished the [Department of Energy and Climate Change] and has been making it harder and preventing on-shore wind farms being built,” she said.
The interventions came after the business secretary, Andrea Leadsom, made it clear that the moratorium was only in place “until the science changes”.
“It’s a disappointment but we’ve always been clear that we will follow the science … the Oil and Gas Authority is one of the world’s best regulators and they have said to us that we cannot be certain that shale gas can be extracted safely,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Asked why a permanent ban was not being imposed, she replied: “Because this is a huge opportunity for the United Kingdom, but we will follow the science.
“What we’re looking to see now is the exploration that Cuadrilla have carried out at Preston New Road, there will be some reports of what the potential is from those wells. So we will have better information in the future once that data has been assessed.”
She added: “It is quite clear that we can’t be certain. The science isn’t accurate enough to be able to assess the fault lines, the geological studies have been shown to be inaccurate and therefore unless, and until we can be absolutely certain we are imposing a moratorium.”
Claire Stephenson from Frack Free Lancashire welcomed the end of the government’s “gratuitous” support for fracking. “Our position, however, is unchanged. We believe that only an outright ban is appropriate to protect the residents and the communities they live in, and our campaign will actively continue until one is implemented,” she said.
Susan Holliday, the chair of the Preston New Action Group, also called for a total ban. “The earthquakes in August were felt by thousands of people. It must be clear from this that the Fylde coast is just not suitable for fracking,” she said.
“It must be a huge relief for those communities that are currently under the threat of planning applications for fracking, knowing that they will now no longer need to go through what we have.”
Friends of the Earth’s chief executive, Craig Bennett, hailed the move as a “tremendous victory” but urged the passage of new laws to enshrine an outright ban on fracking.
“We must now ensure that legislation is passed so that the ban is made permanent,” he said. “But we can’t stop with banning fracking here if we are going to avoid catastrophic climate change. Time is running out. The UK must stop funding fracking abroad and we must leave all fossil fuels in the ground.”
The Green party co-leader Siân Berry tweeted: “Banning fracking is for life, not just for Christmas.”