Owen Paterson: fracking would be boon for poorest parts of the UK | Environment | theguardian.com.
Fracking could be a financial boon to poor and remote parts of the UK, according to former environment secretary and climate change sceptic Owen Paterson.
The Conservative MP, sacked by David Cameron in July, also said the government was losing the battle to develop shale gas to a very powerful “green blob” of environmental campaigners.
Paterson’s remarks will intensify the fierce debate over shale gas exploration and echo the controversy that followed Conservative peer Lord Howell when he said in 2013 that “desolate areas” such as the north-east of England should be fracked. Paterson was giving a lecture on Tuesday at the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), a climate sceptic group led by former Tory chancellor Lord Lawson.
Paterson said the UK’s legally binding target to cut climate-warming carbon emissions by 80% by 2050 was impossible to meet and should be scrapped. He dismissed most renewable energy as unable to keep the lights on and instead advocated shale gas, though he said fracking faced intense opposition.
“We have a very, very vigorous political campaign [against fracking],” he said, adding that campaigners were beating ministers’ effort to promote shale gas. “In Lancashire they are miles ahead of the government, they are leafleting streets, going on local radio, there’s a very vigorous social media campaign.”
He said the campaign had also affected his North Shropshire constituency. “I have seen it near me, where there is the possibility of doing coal-bed methane [gas extraction], and they have come in from all around and completely spooked the people in my areas with all sorts of stuff which is very exaggerated.”
“Now what I see is this could be a real boon to poorly remunerated parts of the country, you know remote parts of Lancashire, remote parts of Shropshire,” he said, adding that communities would benefit from the “significant sums of money being offered” by energy companies.
“Owen Paterson’s latest outburst is another reminder of just how out of touch the Tories are,” said Caroline Flint, Labour’s shadow energy and climate change secretary. “On Wednesday we had a government minister saying disabled people shouldn’t be paid the minimum wage and now we’ve got a man who served in David Cameron’s cabinet for four years suggesting that only deprived areas should have fracking.”
She said climate change is a threat to the UK’s national security and scrapping the Climate Change Act which set the 2050 target would damage Britain’s influence abroad.
Green party MP Caroline Lucas said: “To suggest that government-neglected local economies could benefit from fracking in any substantial way is gravely misleading.” She said fracking could damage tourism and farming in rural economies. “Investment in renewables, however, would create jobs, and make for more resilient local economies, an inconvenient truth for the pro-fracking lobby, Mr Paterson included.”
Paterson claimed that many Conservative MPs supported his views on energy and global warming and a recent poll suggested two-thirds are climate sceptics. But one senior Tory MP told the Guardian: “Paterson hates the prime minister and the prime minister hates him. He’s just trying to stir up trouble.”
Lord Howell, George Osborne’s father-in-law and a former energy adviser to the foreign secretary, later apologised for any offence causedby his “desolate” remark and said it had been a “stupid error” to mention anywhere at all.
At the GWPF event, Paterson derided environmental campaigners as bullies using “vicious” tactics. “As environment secretary I did everything I could to speed up approval of shale gas permits,” Paterson said. “But I was up against the very powerful green blob whose sole aim was to stop it.”
Friends of the Earth’s Tony Bosworth said: “Paterson is as misguided and out of touch on fracking as he is on broader energy policy. Local communities aren’t being fooled by exaggerated claims about economic benefits and strong regulations and they won’t be bought off by bribes from an increasingly desperate industry that’s rapidly losing the argument.”
Paterson sharply criticised the “subsidy-drunk” renewables industry, particularly wind farms. “We know that Britain’s dash for wind, though immensely costly, regressive and damaging to the environment, has had very little impact on emissions.”
Andrew Whalley, from the British Wind partnership, said: “In fact, onshore wind is one of the most affordable options. If the facts continue to be ignored it will be consumers who are left to foot the bill and security of supply that will be put at risk.”
Paterson told the GWPF audience: “The fundamental problem with our electricity policy over the last two decades has been that successive governments have attempted to pick winners.”
He cited four technologies he said could reduce emissions and cut emissions: fracking, combined heat and power plants, mini nuclear reactors in urban and rural areas and dynamic demand management, which enables devices like fridges to turn themselves off briefly when electricity demand is high.
On climate change science, Paterson said: “The forecast effects of climate change have been consistently and widely exaggerated thus far.” He said the atmosphere had failed to warm at all over the past 18 years, joking that the “pause” was now old enough to vote and join the army. This contention, and others, was rejected by the government official advisors, the Committee on Climate Change.
The Climate Change Act was passed in 2008 with just four of 646 MPs voting against it. Paterson voted for it, explaining on Tuesday that he had not investigated the issue at the time. He said he had not spoken out whilst environment secretary because he had been a loyal member of the government.
Lord Stern, author of the influential 2007 UK government report on the economics of climate change and recent New Climate Economy report, said Paterson had failed to understand the risks posed by climate change and that repealing the Act now would be “a perverse backward step”.
Baroness Worthington, one of the Act architects and now a Labour shadow energy minister said Paterson’s proposal was “utterly bonkers”.