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Factcheck: is Jacob Rees-Mogg right that fracking is safe and vital? | Fracking

In angry exchanges in the House of Commons, the new company secretary, Jacob Rees-Mogg, made four controversial claims about fracking on Thursday. But do they get up?

1. “It’s safe. It’s been shown to be safe. The scare stories have been refuted time and time again.”

Despite the company secretary’s unequivocal statement, the jury is still out on the safety or otherwise of fracking. The British Geological Survey, commissioned by the government, says predicting the occurrence of major earthquakes from fracking and their expected magnitude is complex and remains a scientific challenge.

Equally difficult is balancing and mitigating risks from fracking-induced earthquakes, or predicting the occurrence of greater vibrations during drilling operations. BGS says the rates of fracking-induced earthquakes in other countries, where shale gas production has been going on for many years, varies significantly.

Fracking also risks contaminating groundwater, according to the BGS, which says: “Groundwater can potentially be contaminated by extraction of shale gas, both from the constituents of shale gas itself, through the formulation and deep injection of water containing a cocktail of additives that are used for hydraulic fracturing and from backflow water which may have a high salt formation water content.”

A 2016 study by the US Environmental Protection Agency found evidence that fracking can affect drinking water supplies under many different conditions, especially at low groundwater levels.

This week Lord Deben, chairman of the Climate Change Committee, warned ministers to look at the facts. “The facts are that you have to deal with fracking in an environmentally friendly way, otherwise you will have serious results.”

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2. “The hysteria over seismicity does not understand that the Richter scale is a logarithmic scale. It seems to think it is a straight arithmetic scale, which of course it is not.”

Rees-Mogg is right in a sense; the Richter scale is logarithmic, meaning that an increase of one unit in magnitude corresponds to a tenfold increase in amplitude.

Whether that equates to hysteria around earthquakes caused by fracking is subjective. The earthquake of 2.9 local magnitude (ML), which hit Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site in Lancashire in 2019 and led to the moratorium on fracking, was 251 times greater than the current maximum fracking safety limit of 0.5 ML.

When the fracking-induced earthquake hit Preston New Road on a public holiday in August, it was felt across the region. A request for information revealed that the BGS received 197 reports of damage from eight postcode areas after the earthquake.

However, as noted by the industry association UKOOGthe quake’s surface vibration was about half of what is allowed on construction sites in the UK and lasted a total of two seconds.

3. “By getting this facility going, we get the cheaper energy we need.”

If shale gas is produced on a large scale in England, it will be sold on the international market, something current Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng acknowledges, who said this year: “If we lifted the moratorium on fracking, it would take ten years to get enough volumes – and it would come at a high cost to communities and our precious countryside.

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“No amount of shale gas from hundreds of wells scattered across rural England would be enough to lower the European price in the short term.

And with the best will in the world, private companies will not sell the shale gas they produce to UK consumers below market price. After all, they are not charities.”

UKOOG has proposed, but has not committed, to lower gas prices for local residents of the sites through a community benefits package.

4. “This is” of such importance, and it’s pure fun that opposes it.”

Some might argue that Rees-Mogg is the luddite for supporting more fossil fuel extraction, dating back at scale to the 1800s. In a letter to the prime minister this week, more than 100 companies urged the government to prioritize energy efficiency, decarbonisation and renewables to accelerate the shift from fossil fuels.

The recent Energy transition Investment trends report of BloombergNEF also painted the future as clean energy, saying that renewable energy is now the default choice for most countries looking to add or replace power generation capacity.

“This is no longer due to mandates or subsidies, but simply because these technologies are more often the most competitive,” said Luiza Demôro, head of energy transitions at BloombergNEF.

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