THE government’s attempts to tap into Britain’s vast shale gas reserves have sparked a wave of political rebellion, with councils declaring themselves “frack-free” and senior MPs facing the threat of anti-fracking opponents at the general election.
George Osborne has announced tax breaks for energy companies and financial incentives for towns and villages in an attempt to encourage drilling for shale. But many groups fear it will cause ground water pollution, earth tremors and the building of eyesores in beauty spots.
Areas where there is a backlash include the chancellor’s Tatton constituency, where three licences have been granted for oil and gas exploration. Last month Michael Jones, leader of the local Cheshire East council, announced the area would be “fracking-free”.
Other authorities opposed to fracking include Brent, northwest London, Brighton & Hove and Bath & North East Somerset. In Conservative- controlled Trafford council, Greater Manchester, Labour is running on an anti-fracking ticket in May’s local elections.
Eric Ollerenshaw, Tory MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood, is leading efforts in Lancashire to secure greater benefits from fracking for residents. With a majority of just 333, he said seats could be lost to “all kinds of parliamentary candidates thinking this [opposing fracking] is a quick hit”.
In Balcombe, West Sussex, the focus of protests last year, Sue Taylor, a Tory member, has set up a group called Conservatives Against Fracking. She warned that Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister and local MP, could face an anti-fracking opponent, or even attempts to deselect him.
John Sauven, Greenpeace UK’s executive director, said: “Plans to strip away homeowners’ rights to make way for industrialisation of the countryside will strike the wrong note with many voters in the Tory party’s rural strongholds.”
Helen Rimmer, energy campaigner with Friends of the Earth, said: “With fracking becoming an ever more toxic issue in the UK . . . supporting it could spell curtains for many MPs in the next general election.”
The first constituency-by- constituency map of oil and gas licences, published online today, shows that in 55 seats more than half the area is covered by a single exploration licence.
The list, from the House of Commons library and the Department of Energy & Climate Change, includes 28 Labour seats, 22 Tory, four Lib Dem and one independent.