A growing number of Tory MPs are turning against fracking, according to one MP with a drilling site in his constituency.
“I think there are more Conservative MPs than perhaps assumed who have concerns about this,” said Rowley, who became the first Conservative MP for North East Derbyshire for 80 years when he won the seat from Labour in 2015. “There are more and more colleagues who are coming up to me and saying ‘I have concerns about this and I have concerns about the policies’.
“A lot of colleagues start from the position as I did a few months ago: that we have to have a sensible energy policy and we have to look at all options and see what we can do. But when they go through the detail many are coming to the conclusion that fracking is probably not the way forward,” he said.
Earlier this week the Tory MP Zac Goldsmith warned that fracking had “the potential to turn whole regions against the government”.
Twenty-one Tory MPs have attended two recent parliamentary debates about the government’s proposals. Ministers want to fast-track planning applications by declaring shale gas wells nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIP) and “permitted developments” on a par with home extensions, allowing them to bypass local planners.
The Thirsk and Malton MP Kevin Hollinrake supports fracking at Kirby Misperton in his North Yorkshire constituency but fears too many wells could be built without careful checks in place.
“North Yorkshire county council developed a plan that restricts proliferation and density, but the concern with NSIP and permitted development is that they will ride a coach and horses through those restrictions. We need to restrict the development of shale as it is rolled out,” he said in parliament on Wednesday.
Rowley, a former oil and gas analyst, told the Guardian proliferation was a genuine fear: “The only way fracking can impact energy and security or jobs and growth is if you do it at scale, at thousands of places around the country, industrialising the landscape … I just don’t think fracking is going to work in the UK.”
The government’s official estimate is that there will be 155 fracking wells by 2025 – a figure the energy minister, Claire Perry, accepts is “out of date” but refuses to revise.
“If the objective is for shale gas to provide a major contribution to the UK’s energy both the pro-fracking and anti-fracking lobby agree that somewhere north of 6,000 wells would be required and the likelihood is it is probably far north of that,” said Rowley.
Planning permission has been granted for the energy firm Ineos to erect a drilling rig up to 60 metres tall and drill around 2,400 metres below the ground in the village of Marsh Lane in Rowley’s constituency. He said Ineos had told him the site would provide 10-20 jobs, all of which would employ people from outside his constituency. His predecessor as North East Derbyshire MP, Labour’s Natascha Engel, supported fracking and last month was appointed the government’s shale gas commissioner.
In parliament on Wednesday, Simon Hoare, the Conservative MP for North Dorset and self-declared “fracking sceptic”, said the government’s attempts to change the planning rules lacked legitimacy and seemed to be “a sleight of hand”.
Sir Greg Knight, the Tory MP for East Yorkshire, noted that the government’s civil society strategy was supposed to put communities at the centre of decision making. “If the government was being consistent, should local communities not have more say in fracking matters, and not have their voices taken away?” he said.
Mark Menzies, whose Fylde constituency on the Lancashire coast contains the Preston New Road fracking site near Blackpool, said the government must ignore pleas from energy firms to relax the “traffic light” system, which mandates that drilling must stop if there is seismic activity above a magnitude of 0.5.
“For six years, the industry was not approaching me or anyone else to say that the threshold was far too low, but we now hear calls that a seismic event should need to be a 1.5 or a 2 to trigger a red event. I am sorry, but that ship has sailed,” he told parliament on Wednesday.
Rowley agreed that opposition was building. “I think we have seen in two debates that there are a significant number of colleagues who are concerned. I think if they learn more about it the concern rises, and I hope the government listens.”