Official survey confirms fall in public backing for fracking after summer of bitter protests
There's no such thing as bad publicity, or so the saying goes. But the old trope doesn't seem to hold true for the UK fracking industry, which today suffered another fall in public support following a summer of fierce disputes between shale gas developers and campaigners resisting fracking projects across the UK.
According to the latest instalment of the BEIS Public Attitudes Tracker, which questioned 4,000 people on their views towards energy and climate issues in September 2018, public support for fracking has dropped from 18 per cent in March to 15 per cent just a few months later.
Despite efforts by the government to force through applications from shale gas developers to start test drilling across the country, fracking projects have been met with angry resistance by many local residents and environmental campaigners. The summer months saw the launch of a series of media campaigns, on-the-ground protests, and legal challenges to try and stifle new developments.
The frequent clashes were widely reported by mainstream news outlets, which could be one factor why explicit support for developing the energy source fell once again between March and September. However, it's worth noting the survey was conducted in September 2018, before test drilling by Cuadrilla began at the Preston New Road site in Lancashire, triggering a series of low-level earthquakes that forced multiple stoppages to drilling operations. Last time fracking was attempted in the UK in 2011 work was suspended after the operations caused localised earthquakes.
Meanwhile, although the public appears less willing to support fracking, explicit opposition to the practice has also dipped. Three in 10 respondents said they opposed fracking according to the latest survey, compared to 36 per cent a year earlier. However, the government did admit people are still more likely to oppose fracking than support it, with women and those aged under 16-24 among those most likely to be against its use in the UK.
Energy Minister Claire Perry insists fracking is necessary to help promote UK energy security and reduce reliance on foreign energy imports. She has also repeatedly stressed that shale gas can play a role as a 'bridge fuel' for the UK as it transitions to a system dominated by clean energy sources. But environmental campaigners say the development of a domestic fracking industry will divert attention and resources away from the urgent need to build out more renewables capacity. They also warn any UK shale gas industry would have to be wound down almost as soon as it has scaled up if the UK is to meet binding greenhouse gas emissions targets.
The results of the latest survey are the first following a major overhaul of the Wave tracker in August, which scaled back the volume of quarterly questions. As part of the changes, the government now gauges levels of support for shale gas and nuclear energy on an annual basis rather than a quarterly one. Therefore today's results mark one of the last opportunities to track seasonal fluctuations in fracking support in response to recent events.
Elsewhere in the survey, support for renewable power remains high at 80 per cent, although slightly below its March 2018 peak of 85 per cent. Notably, the proportion of people opposing onshore wind has dropped to its lowest ever level of just six per cent, while support for the technology remains at its record high of 76 per cent.
The consistent public backing for the technology - one of the cheapest sources of renewable power - has emboldened those lobbying for the technology to receive a government-backed route to market in recent months.
"This latest poll demonstrates that the level of public support for onshore wind remains consistently high - yet we're still awaiting action from government to allow onshore wind to compete on a level playing field against other technologies," pointed out RenewableUK's executive director Emma Pinchbeck. "Every recent study shows that building new onshore wind projects is the cheapest way to generate power for consumers. Scientists have made it crystal clear that the need to take action against climate change is urgent, so decisions need to be taken swiftly."
Meanwhile, awareness of "clean growth" - a concept central to the government's climate strategy - is starting to cut-through with the public. Seventy-eight per cent of those questioned had heard the term in September when the survey was conducted, compared to 71 per cent in July 2018.
The survey was carried out before the start of Green Great Britain Week last month, which aimed to further promote "clean growth" across the country through a series of events and announcements.
Over the years, the BEIS Wave Tracker has revealed consistent support for renewables and an enduring scepticism around fracking. It doesn't appear this summer's wave of publicity has done much to break this trend - and for fracking at least, it seems the headlines haven't helped.
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