Commissioner Fracking resigns after six months


Natascha Engel

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Natascha Engel was previously Vice President of the House of Commons

The UK shale gas commissioner is resigning after just six months, saying the fracking is being stifled by rules that prevent mini-earthquakes.

Current government rules indicate that fracking should be suspended every time a magnitude 0.5 quake is detected.

But Natascha Engel said that this cautious approach to earthquakes has created a de facto ban on fracking.

Green advocates say the fracturing is deeply damaging to the environment – but Engel rejected those claims.

In his resignation letter to Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Greg Clark, Engel said the government was "favoring what we know to be myths and scaring stories" about the shale gas extraction.

A department spokesman said the government supported the development of the shale industry in the UK "because we believe it could have the potential to be a new domestic energy source and create thousands of high-quality, high-paying jobs."

They added that the government is "confident" that current regulations "strike the right balance to ensure the industry can develop, while ensuring that any operation is carried out safely and responsibly."

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Ministers have created the role of commissioner to give confidence in regulation to local communities, industry and regulators.

But Engel's departure will be well received by environmental groups who say their pro-frustration views prevented her from being an honest broker.

So what's the problem?

The key issue is a government rule that forces the industry to stop fracking every time there is a 0.5 magnitude micro-tremor.

Miss Engel said: "This amounts to a de facto ban. The paralysis we are seeing in Parliament (on fracking policy) is compounded by social media and a powerful environmental lobby that makes impossible demands on CO2 emissions."

The government said it wanted to support fracking because the gas produces less carbon emissions than coal.

Engel said the result of stricter regulations would be the difficulty in reducing CO2 emissions, reducing economic growth and reducing energy security – since the United Kingdom would have to import gas instead of producing its own gas.

She continued: "These points have been repeated, but ministers ignore them and instead allow campaign groups to conduct policies.

"So many local companies face the collapse, they have invested huge sums to prepare themselves for the shale, as the government told them," There is, therefore, no purpose in this role. "

She pointed out that 49 geoscientists had recently asked the government to relax what they called overly zealous regulations.

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Activists say fracking is harmful to the environment

How will opponents of fracking respond?

Environmentalists will be delighted with Engel's decision to give up. They argued that the rules of fracturing in the crowded land of the UK must be much stricter than in the open spaces of the USA.

More fundamentally, they said it was crazy for the UK to be seeking more gas when companies have discovered far more fossil fuel than scientists say can be burned without destroying the climate.

Environmental charity Friends of the Earth said Engel's suggestion that fracking could help reduce carbon emissions was "outrageous."

The government added that the government has "bent to help the fracking industry," despite being "bad news for the climate and environment" and "deeply unpopular to the public."

Earlier this week, former CBI director Adair Turner said there was no room for fracking if the UK did its part in maintaining the global temperature rise to 1.5C.

Government policy was also influenced by its own backbenchers. Also this week, Teeside MP, Simon Clark, said the time for fracking in Parliament had come and gone.


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