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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "fracking"

Our survey. Over half of Party members give a thumbs-up to fracking – so dissenting from Johnson’s manifesto.

Westlake Legal Group Screen-Shot-2020-03-06-at-08.14.14 Our survey. Over half of Party members give a thumbs-up to fracking – so dissenting from Johnson’s manifesto. ToryDiary Highlights fracking environment Energy ConservativeHome Members' Panel Climate Change

It can’t be claimed that we’ve barred the Conservative Manifesto from speaking for itself, so to speak.

Above is its entire section on fracking and below it is the Survey Panel’s response.  They don’t believe that the moratorium on it is justified by the evidence.

We didn’t ask about other technologies – but then again the manifesto didn’t propose a bar on them in this way.  Some respondents would presumably say that if Britain is to reduce its carbon emissions further, then fracking should be one of the means at its disposal.

The manifesto’s form of words allows a potential get-out, but constituency presssure from backbench Tory MPs killed fracking during the last Parliament.

And nothing much looks set to change during this one.



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The Treasury fights back. How it plans to drive radical reform – and become “the Government’s internal think tank”

It was bad news for Sajid Javid when the Prime Minister pledged to keep him as Chancellor.

Not nearly as bad for him, you may counter, as if Johnson hadn’t.  But you take the point.  There is tension if not between the two men then at least between some in their camps.  (Dominic Cummings has been known to be just a little sharp about Javid.)

The Prime Minister’s commitment, made less than a month before the general election, succeeded in its purpose – namely, to shut down speculation that Javid would be replaced at the Treasury, if Johnson won big, by the coming man of the Government: his deputy, Rishi Sunak.

A view from the Treasury is that this choppy water has smoothed out.  It is keen to stress that the working relationship between two men is not only excellent, but a partnership on which much of the Government’s work is built. And it has examples to hand.

But even more significantly, it portrays the Treasury not as a cowed department, bamboozled by the voters’ endorsement of Brexit and dominated by a resurgent Downing Street, but as the continuing powerhouse of government.

One insider tells ConservativeHome that the department will become nothing less than “the Government’s internal think tank”.

Let’s start with what should be uncontentious.  Sources claim that Javid won the internal debate over tax and spending with the aid of Isaac Levido – who stressed to Political Cabinet, pre-election, that the Tories could not simply mimic Labour, and display a Nick-Timothy era tolerance of public spending growth.  They needed to frame an electoral choice.

And so to pre-election new fiscal rules (the Tory manifesto lists two of them) and a post-poll squeeze on current spending and the slaughter of “sacred cows”.

There is a new Cabinet public spending domestic delivery committee; the Treasury has been empowered to go through departmental spending line by line, to ensure that spending plans are in line with Johnson’s priorities; it and Number Ten are “in 100 per cent agreement”.

But what’s to stop the departmental Sir Humphreys from simply presenting the same old projects under brand new headings – linking them to the delivery of 50,000 more nurses; 20,000 more police; an Australian-style points-based immigration system; net zero emissions by 2050 and investment in science?

“We have the numbers,” the Treasury counters.  Which raises the question of how the effectiveness of all this extra cash will be monitored.  It is at this point that the conversation begins to get interesting – from a political point of view at least.

The inside view from the department is that there are three main reasons why the manifesto avoided public service reform.  First, the exigencies of Brexit gave Ministers little time to plan.  Second, the Conservatives didn’t plan for having so big a majority.  Third, Johnson was determined not to risk a 2017-style document.

But the Treasury has not given up on seeking to drive reform – even if that means Javid stepping on other Cabinet Minister’s toes.

Consider its drive to take ownership of the Government’s skills programme.  Late last week, it was reported that the Chancellor “will make them a central theme of his March Budget”.  And his support for HS2 has been heavily briefed (to the irritation of some in Downing Street).  The skills pitch contained a spoor (talking of “we have the numbers”). “Treasury officials have been collating research on the drivers of regional disparities”.

It is against this background that our source’s wish to turn the department into the Government’s internal think tank must be seen.

To the Treasury, it has a history of departmental predominance; “the numbers”, and a tradition of driving radical reform when it wants to.  Which is does – at least under this Chancellor.  According to the pro-building Sun, he sees eye to eye with Downing Street on planning reform.

But there is more.  The department has a long interest in seeking to free up the demand side of childcare.  Sources speak sympathetically of Liz Truss’s quest to ease up on the ratio of childminders to children.  It failed, ConHome pointed out.  To which we got the response: “but she was right”.

Then there is the police.  “Does anyone really believe that policing in Scotland is worse now that it has a single force rather than eight?”, this site was told.  Maybe not.  However, merging forces in England and Wales would raise big questions, some structural (such as the future of police commissioners).

There are others.  The manifesto doesn’t mention such reforms at all.  Indeed, it promises to “enhance the Green Belt”.  This would not be easy to square with building on bits of it.  Furthermore, pressure from Tory MPs has a way of frightening change off: consider the fate of fracking.

And to turn from the external to the internal: were the Treasury to work as the Government’s think tank – presumably with more SpAd experts working to that brief – what would become of Number Ten’s Policy Unit?

It waxes and wanes depending partly on the strength of the Prime Minister, and partly on that of its own leadership – and in both contexts it is currently in the ascendant.  Johnson has his near-landslide size majority, and the Unit is vigorously led.  Munira Mirza was a co-author of the manifesto and is a Downing Street force second only to Cummings – when it comes to intellectual drive and policy formation, at any rate.

The growth of Downing Street Ten as a driving force since the Blair era provides a context in which to see the Treasury’s ambitions.

The Theresa May-Philip Hammond relationship went sour almost from the start. David Cameron and George Osborne got on famously well; Tony Blair and Gordon Brown famously badly.  Looking back to the pre-Blair era takes us to John Major and Ken Clarke.  Weak Prime Minister, strong Chancellor: not the template here.

Johnson’s majority positions him to be more like Margaret Thatcher, during her post-1983 landslide, when it comes to his relationship with his Chancellor.  She was dominant.  And at that point, the Exchange Rate Mechanism was not even a speck in Nigel Lawson’s eye.

However, Javid is not really comparable to the man who became one of the most formidable of Britain’s post-war Chancellors.  Lawson was never a leadership contender.  Javid stood against Johnson and lost, though he ended up running a creditable campaign.

If Javid is identified with any cause – as Lawson was with tax reform – it is with infrastructure spending.  He pushed for £100 billion more of it when seconding Stephen Crabb’s Conservative leadership campaign in 2016.  Now he is getting his way.  But Number Ten is much more weaponised a creature than in Major’s Day.  Whether it is signed up to the wider ambitions of some in the Treasury remains to be seen.

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What you may have missed about the Conservative Manifesto 3) A door left ajar on fracking.

“We placed a moratorium on fracking in England with immediate effect. Having listened to local communities, we have ruled out changes to the planning system. We will not support fracking unless the science shows categorically that it can be done safely.”

There is a long story behind this form of words.

It includes: support for fracking from the Coalition and Cameron governments; support for a relaxation of planning laws under Theresa May; legal action against her government on the matter; opposition to Government fracking proposals from some 20 Conservative MPs; a planned Commons rebellion from them…and then confirmation last month that fracking plans and planning reforms have both been dropped.

Hence the manifesto’s statement. Boris Johnson wants an election win. That means no hostages to electoral fortune.

Mind you, Greenpeace have not quite got the ban they want – since, after all, a moratorium is not a bar.  The manifesto’s wording potentially allows the Government to turn turtle: Ministers could eventually argue that in their view science suggests that fracking can be be done safely.  The door may seem to have been closed, but it has been left slightly ajar.

Nonetheless, the planning position looks well entrenched.  This is a good decision for Conservative prospects in marginal seats in the Midlands and North.  Whether it is quite so good for Britain’s energy needs is more doubtful.


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New Mexico teens may turn down free college if it’s funded by Big Oil

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Ah, what are the future Extinction Rebellion members in New Mexico supposed to do? Teens who consider themselves to be climate activists are now on the horns of a dilemma. After Democrats managed to flip the state blue in the last elections, their new liberal governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham, began pushing through all sorts of proposals. In addition to gun control and marijuana decriminalization, Grisham decided that all of the students in the state should get a free education at both two and four-year state colleges. What’s not to like, right?

Well, according to some teen activists, there’s still a problem. You see, over the past nine years, the fracking boom in New Mexico has turned it into the third largest oil and gas producer in the country, behind only Texas and Alaska. And taxes from all of that energy production have left the state fat with cash to spend on things like public education. That’s how Grisham is able to float plans like the free tuition scheme. But some of these students think it would be hypocritical to take the free money if it’s got oil and gas stains on it. (NBC News)

Proponents of the bill say it would be a boon for a state with one of the nation’s highest poverty rates and some of the country’s worst-performing public schools. But critics, and some students like [Jonathon Juarez-Alonzo] – who stands to benefit from tuition-free college – see a conflict at the core of the governor’s plan: free college would be funded largely through revenue from the state’s ongoing oil and gas boom.

“We’re not saying we don’t want or we don’t support free public education,” Jonathon said. “But it’s like we’re in a hostage situation where we have to choose free public education or a livable planet in the future.”

Another student, fifteen-year-old climate activist Emese Nagy, of Albuquerque, was similarly conflicted.

“I’ve gone to public school and I’ve seen how bad our education is and how much funding we require,” she said. “But I don’t think it’s worth it.”

Even though the Democrats have taken control of both the legislature and the governor’s mansion, the complaints of the climate activists are falling on deaf ears. Recently, State Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez introduced a bill that would have placed a moratorium of four years on all fracking activity so they could “study the situation.” It never even came up for a vote.

The fact is that New Mexico is currently doing financially better than the state has in ages. And it’s almost entirely due to revolutionary new technology in the oil and gas exploration market. They’re getting literally 32% of all their tax revenue from the fossil fuel industry. If they shut that off (the way New York State has), all of these programs the Democrats are using to give away free goodies will go up in smoke. And a little thing like “saving the planet” can’t be allowed to get in the way of that.

Of course, there’s a solution available to all of these students that addresses all of the problems above. Just don’t take the money. Surely there is a way to opt out of the program and insist on paying the tuition. And if not, go to a private college. Or go to one out of state that doesn’t offer free tuition. You have a variety of choices.

Now, run along home and tell your parents that you need $100K they weren’t planning on spending. And do come back and let us know how it goes.

The post New Mexico teens may turn down free college if it’s funded by Big Oil appeared first on Hot Air.

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CalTech Seismologist Shoots Down ‘Did Fracking Cause This Earthquake?’ Question

Seismologists with the US Geological Survey and CalTech have been an invaluable resource for both the press and the public in the wake of two major earthquakes near Ridgecrest, California this weekend. They’ve given hours-long press conferences and answered detailed questions about the earthquakes that have already occurred and what Californians can expect in the near future as a result.

Dr. Egill Hauksson, a seismologist at CalTech, held a press conference Saturday in which he was asked by a reporter, “Could fracking in Kern County have anything to do with these earthquakes?”

In his quick reply he seemed to be stifling a chuckle. He said:

“I think that’s — no. I think I can answer that — no. I don’t have to put a qualifier on that.

“There is a geothermal area at the very north end….That’s the coastal geothermal area where there’s a — very large energy production going on where they pump water into the ground to harness heat from the rock. But if they had had something to do with this, we would have expected the activity to maybe start much closer to the geothermal area and then emanate from there.

“But again, the reason we have a geothermal field there is in part due to the active tectonics. It’s due to the ongoing geological deformation. So in that particular area the crust is being thinned and pulled apart so heat can easily rise from the interior of the earth, and we are able to harness that for electricity production.”

It was interesting to hear his scientific explanation as to why – especially that the geothermal field exists because of the active tectonics. With active tectonics one would logically expect some type of seismic activity, whether or not fracking occurs.

Hauksson’s LinkedIn profile states that he is “Project lead for the Southern California Seismic Network (SCSN), a joint project of Caltech and USGS,” and that part of his duties in that role include leading efforts to develop instrumentation for “earthquake early warning and hazards mitigation.”

Watch the question and Dr. Hauksson’s reply here:

Jennifer Van Laar is Deputy Managing Editor for RedState. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

The post CalTech Seismologist Shoots Down ‘Did Fracking Cause This Earthquake?’ Question appeared first on RedState.

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James Frayne: What polling does and doesn’t tell us about voters and the environment

James Frayne is Director of Public First and author of Meet the People, a guide to moving public opinion.

Conservative Party politicians are prone to temporary policy cause obsessions. Over the last decade or so, we’ve seen them obsess briefly about, amongst other issues: free schools, the gender pay gap, social media, childcare, foreign aid and housing. (To list them like this is not to dismiss their relevance).

The enthusiasm which they responded to Greta Thunberg’s visit to the UK, their timidity in the face of Extinction Rebellion’s direct action, and their unwillingness, as Natascha Engel described in her resignation as Shale Commissioner, to seriously promote Shale Gas extraction in England, strongly suggests they’re about to become obsessed with policy development on climate change. If so, what does this mean for the Party electorally? What do the polls say about the environment as an issue?

Let’s look at how seriously people take the issue overall.

YouGov’s most recent headline tracker of the public’s top issues puts the environment reasonably low down the list, behind leaving the EU, crime, health, the economy and immigration, but above housing, education, welfare and defence. While it’s still something of a niche issue overall, many will be surprised that it is even this high and, crucially, the issue has risen slowly but consistently over the last couple of years.

A poll for “Stop Climate Chaos” in Scotland also suggested, in a not-perfect exercise, that many people have become more concerned about climate change in recent times. So it’s an issue that’s on the up. (Incidentally, only a tiny number of people had heard, in early March, about “The Green New Deal”, inspired by US environmental activists. Also, incidentally, British adults put “pollution, the environment and climate change” much lower down their list of priorities than adults in other European countries).

But, predictably, the headline numbers mask huge differences of opinion based on politics, class and age. Hanbury Strategy’s recent poll for Onward showed that 18-24 year olds put the environment third in their list of policy priorities, behind Britain leaving the EU and health; on the other hand, over 65s put the environment near the bottom of their list, just above transport and defence. The poll also showed that Conservative voters were much less likely to name the environment as a major issue.

In a separate question in the same report, voters were asked if they would prefer that society or Government focused either on economic growth or prioritising the environment. This question forces too stark a choice in people’s minds, but the gaps between groups’ answers are interesting. Overall, voters narrowly said, by 51 per cent to 49 per cent, economic growth. However, 18-24 year olds chose the environment by 62 per cent to 38 per cent, while over 65s chose the economy by 64 per cent to 36 per cent.

Conservatives chose the economy by a significant margin, while Labour voters chose the environment by a similarly clear margin. (Another incidental finding, which builds this age point out further: a YouGov poll showed that a fifth of the population believe “the threat of climate change is over-exaggerated”. While nine per cent of 18-24 year olds agree with this statement, 32 pe cent of over 55’s agree).

That such differences between ages exist will not come as a surprise to anyone, but we should be wary, on the existing evidence, of either claiming that young people are obsessed about the environment, or that older people are dismissive of it – and careful about recommending very clear actions for campaign strategy.

After all, we haven’t yet seen young people’s commitment to tackling climate change through regulation tested by an economic downturn. After the financial crisis, Ipsos-Mori’s tracker showed that public interest in the environment tailed away significantly (although to be fair, I can’t find a breakdown of younger voters’ attitudes), in much the same way we’re seeing the reputation of “big business” rebound in the aftermath of the EU referendum as voters’ minds are focused on the prospect of large employers leaving Britain. Would things change in the same way if jobs were threatened now? It’s hard to say – but some Conservatives are making a huge leap of faith that young voters have fully embraced green activism.

As for older voters, the evidence suggests that older voters might draw a distinction between different types of environmental issues – taking climate change less seriously than what you might call “the local physical environment”. For example, almost all over 65s say they would support “a law to significantly reduce plastic waste and pollution within 25 years” – a higher figure than 18-24 year olds. And a similarly high number of older people say they view tackling litter as more of a priority than they used to.

My strong impression is also that older voters are also more likely to volunteer that they are concerned about issues surrounding food safety and animal welfare and protecting areas of natural beauty – although this is an impression borne of many years moderating focus groups rather than on any hard data. In a sense, this is the environmentalism that Michael Gove has been pushing from Defra.

What does all this mean? Honestly, I don’t think there’s even nearly enough research data out there to make serious conclusions as to how the electorate will react to the Conservatives embracing the green agenda more seriously. Far more needs to be done. Most will likely support Gove’s Defra reforms. While it is certainly reasonable to suggest that younger voters care more about climate change, there are clearly dangers in jumping into this debate by accepting the terms set out by green activists – who essentially argue that we can only protect the environment by slowing growth and insisting on massive personal austerity. Such a move will irritate the bulk of electorate and likely a massive chunk of younger voters too.

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The loss of May’s fracking tsar illustrates a decaying will to govern

For a Government which has been wracked by as many resignations as Theresa May’s, the departure of a mere ‘tsar’ may count as a little light relief.

Yet Natascha Engel’s decision to step down as Shale Gas Commissioner is just the latest evidence of the extent to which this administration’s domestic agenda is disintegrating as it focuses its dwindling reserves of energy on the Prime Minister’s ongoing efforts to pass her Withdrawal Agreement.

Engel, a former Labour MP and Deputy Speaker who represented North East Derbyshire before being unseated by Lee Rowley in 2017, was appointed by Claire Perry, the Energy Minister, only seven months ago. She was meant to serve as a “single point of contact” for residents and others on the subject of fracking.

Yet she claims that ministers are making shale gas extraction effectively impossible by imposing excessive restrictions, namely requiring an 18-hour pause in drilling every time a ‘micro-tremor’ of magnitude 0.5 or greater is detected. The industry claims that such tremors are almost entirely undetectable on the surface and that several more serious ones – unconnected to fracking – have occurred in the UK without any ill-effect.

In a parting shot in the Times, Engel herself argues that shale has an essential role to play in helping the UK transition from traditional oil and gas to renewable energy – which currently provides only a fraction of Britain’s energy needs on a reliable basis – whilst avoiding counter-productive alternatives such as wood pellets or bio-fuels. Labour and green activists want shale extraction banned altogether.

Setting aside the question of whether or not fracking is a good thing, the Government’s current position appears designed to irritate both sides to minimal benefit. Greta Thunberg’s acolytes won’t be won over by official statements saying that shale extraction “could have the potential to be a new domestic energy source and create thousands of well-paid, quality jobs”.

But if the shale companies can’t extract then neither those jobs nor that energy will materialise either – and this hasn’t gone unnoticed in usually-friendly newspapers such as The Sun and the Daily Telegraph.

Engel’s version of events – that the Government has chickened out of reviewing the originally-temporary 0.5 limit because it lacks the fight to take on the green lobby – is entirely plausible, and illustrative of a Government which appears to be losing even the capacity for power. May is reportedly scrambling to find bills to justify forestalling a new Queen’s Speech – it’s too much to hope that action on this important front will be part of that exercise.

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