She’s being touted as the stop-Boris-as-Party-leader candidate. Unlike Liam Fox, she’s well into fracking. It’s not much good to be free from the EU, but for thousands of people to have to leave the countryside, many to become sick and to die. Fox is the only leadership contender who’s put up any resistance to fracking, evidenced in his voting record. The fact that the media went out of its way to besmirch his character without any evidence of wrongdoing, shows he’s a solid anti-establishment potential leader. He’s very well trusted by dozens of MPs, and should be a great contender for the leadership. His debating skills are as good as any in the House. The media’s pushing Leadsom as the alternative to Boris. I don’t think so.
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Andrea Leadsom: “Don’t be browbeaten by fracking scaremongering”
Andrea Leadsom is on a mission to change the terms of the fracking debate and win round local communities. The energy minister talks to Kevin Schofield
Fracking, it is fair to say, does not get a great press in this country. Rightly or wrongly, those who oppose hydraulic fracturing – to give it its Sunday title – garner more headlines than the technology’s proponents.
They claim it causes earthquakes, poisons drinking water and blots the landscape. Much better to rely on windfarms and solar to meet the UK’s future energy needs, they say.
Andrea Leadsom, however, is on a mission to change the terms of the debate. She is almost evangelical about fracking, which she is convinced is the answer to Britain’s energy conundrum – an increasing dependency on gas at a time when we are producing less and less of the stuff here in the UK.
She says: “As things stand, we have 40% of our gas being supplied from the North Sea basin and that’s reduced from what used to be almost all of it. In the next 15 to 20 years that will reduce to 25%, so the difference is made up of imports from Norway and largely Qatar.
“There’s the ridiculous argument that somehow we don’t need gas, we can just do it with windfarms and solar. Of course that’s absolutely implausible. 85% of us use gas for heating and cooking, so we’ve got to have it. Gas is absolutely essential to the UK’s energy security and we’d be mad not to look at what we can do at home.”
For the uninitiated, fracking involves drilling deep into the earth and then sending a high-pressure blast of water, sand and chemicals into the rocks below to release gas. Large amounts of shale gas have been identified across the UK, and drilling licences have been awarded to a number of companies. But thus far, no applications have received planning permission.
According to the energy minister, Britain is in danger of missing out on a technology which will generate jobs, grow the economy and keep the country’s radiators on for years to come.
She also takes head-on the green lobby’s safety concerns, insisting the safeguards are in place to make sure fracking can be both clean and safe.
“It is way safer than most industrial processes,” she insists. “We’ve been properly regulating offshore and onshore gas for 50 years and have got the toughest regulations in the world.
“People say it’ll cause earthquakes. It’s true it has caused some seismic activity, but that’s not the same as an earthquake. During the process of the actual hydraulic fracturing, an independent well inspector will be standing at the well head with very sophisticated equipment and in the event that you get seismic activity that is greater than slamming a door or jumping off a ladder then they will call a halt and carry on at another point.
“People argue that the chemicals used are absolutely poisonous and again that’s just not true. They are fully disclosed and published. They are not carcinogenic. Poisonous chemicals are not being put back into the water table. It is simply not the case that contaminated water will end up as drinking water. It’s just not true.”
Politics, of course, is the art of the possible. And the reality is that local councillors, with one eye on the ballot box, have very little incentive to give the green light to controversial schemes which could see them turfed out on their ear come the next election.
Leadsom implores her town hall brethren to look at the bigger picture and ignore the “scaremongering” of fracking’s many opponents. “It’s simply not right that the local authority needs to look into the entire safety and environmental issues because they are dealt with by the Environment Agency and Health and Safety Executive,” she insists. “What local authorities need to be looking at is the impact on local people.