Public Accounts Committee

Investigation: fracking inquiry

Inquiry status: Concluded

Due to the general election on 12 December 2019 the Committee has now closed this inquiry. Following the dissolution of Parliament on 6 November, all Select Committees will cease to exist until after the general election. If an inquiry on this subject is held in the future, the Committee may refer to the evidence already gathered as part of this inquiry.

Scope of the inquiry

Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is a technique used to recover gas from shale rock. In England, this rock lies deep underground primarily in Yorkshire, the East Midlands and the North West. The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (the Department) leads government’s policy for shale gas development; it believes shale gas could provide the UK with greater energy security through diversifying the sources of supply and is committed to developing a shale gas industry in England.

Fracking for shale gas is the subject of media, public and Parliamentary interest. The Department’s public attitudes survey shows the opposition to shale gas has increased from 21% to 40% between 2013 and 2019. Public concern has centred on the risks to the environment and public health; from fracking-induced earthquakes; and the adequacy of the environmental regulations in place.

A recent National Audit Office (NAO) report has found that progress in establishing a shale gas industry in England has been slower than government planned. In 2016, the Cabinet Office expected up to 20 fracked wells by mid-2020, but three wells have been fracked to date. The Department believes it can meet its climate change objectives while developing shale gas, but has not yet developed the necessary technology.

The report also notes that fracking has placed financial pressures on local bodies like councils and police forces, government departments and regulators. It estimates that at least £33m has been spent by public bodies since 2011m – £13.4m of which was spent by three local police forces on maintaining the security around shale gas sites.

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