If the UK exploits all its domestic reserves of shale gas the country will have no chance of meeting its 2050 net zero emissions goal, the Labour Party has warned this evening.
Speaking ahead of a visit tomorrow to a fracking site run by Cuadrilla in Lancashire, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn accused the government of "bending the knee" to fracking companies at the expense of the UK's environment.
Labour said its analysis suggests the full exploitation of the UK's shale gas reserves would result in 7,485 megatonnes of CO2 (MtCO2), equivalent to the total emissions the UK would emit from now until 2050 on a net zero trajectory.
"We need urgent action to tackle the climate emergency, and that means the Prime Minister immediately banning fracking once and for all," Corbyn said.
The Conservatives have repeatedly argued fracking in the UK will improve energy security for the country's gas supply, which it claims is a vital 'bridge fuel' for the low-carbon transition. But repeated attempts to build a domestic fracking industry in the UK have been thwarted by vociferous public opposition and relatively stringent regulations.
For example, the only operating fracking site in the UK, Cuadrilla's Preston New Road site, has been forced to halt operations several times for breaching regulations governing seismic activity. Cuadrilla's pre-tax profits fell by half in 2018, compared to a year earlier. It has warned a commercial shale gas industry will not be viable in the UK unless the regulations are relaxed.
Officially the government still supports fracking in the UK, but has refused to loosen the regulations on seismic activity and has been less vocal in its support for the sector in recent months, as public concern about climate change has risen and the fossil fuel industry increasingly looks threatened by cheap renewable power. A number of leading Conservative MPs have also signalled their concerns about the sector's potential climate impacts.
However, new Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Secretary of State Andrea Leadsom has been supportive of fracking in the past, previously urging local authorities to ignore the "scaremongering" of fracking opponents.
Labour's latest move follows a series of attacks on the government's decarbonisation track record, as the opposition seeks to highlight its own net zero strategy. Corbyn recently warned that at the current rate of decarbonisation the UK would not meet its net zero emissions target until 2099.
Corbyn today called on the government to "change course" and step up its focus on developing green energy supplies. "Instead of bending the knee to a few corporations who profit from extracting fossil fuels from the ground, we need to change course now," he said. He added that a Labour government would ban fracking and instead embark on a "Green Industrial Revolution" to ramp up the UK's clean energy supply.
A spokesperson for the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) insisted natural gas will have to play in meeting the UK's net zero emissions goal. "Exploring the potential of a new domestic energy source is not only compatible with these world-leading climate goals, it could also deliver substantial economic benefits, through the creation of well paid, high-quality jobs," they said.
The newly formed Johnson administration has signalled that it is committed to deliver on the UK's new net zero goal, but is yet to provide much of a steer on how it plans to accelerate emission reduction efforts that are currently off-track to meet the UK's legally-binding targets.