POLITICS
13/05/2014 12:52 BST | Updated 13/05/2014 12:59 BST

Fracking Support 'Seriously Flawed', Lord Howell Warns Coalition

Prime Minister David Cameron looks on during a guided tour of the IGas shale drilling plant oil depot near Gainsborough, Lincolnshire.
Lindsey Parnaby/WPA-Rota
Prime Minister David Cameron looks on during a guided tour of the IGas shale drilling plant oil depot near Gainsborough, Lincolnshire.

George Osborne's father-in-law Lord Howell, who was forced to apologise after calling for controversial fracking to take place in the "desolate" North East of England, has admitted that the coalition's support for fracking is "seriously flawed".

Howell, who was a Foreign Office minister from 2010 to 2012, said that ministers were "MUCH too optimistic" about the potential benefits of shale gas exploration, adding that their excessive enthusiasm could "prove extremely dangerously [sic] politically when the reality unfolds”.

The Tory peer, who was a government energy adviser until last April, used a column in the Journal of Energy Security to repeat his call for fracking in "remote (derelict) areas" of England.

“Based on a lot of evidence and advice from all over, I view what is coming from the Cabinet Office, from Ministers and from DECC about shale gas and oil as being seriously flawed, needing correction and costing us dearly as this becomes evident, which it will," the peer wrote.

"A different tone and form of opinion leadership is needed if fracking is to go ahead successfully."

This comes as the government has thrown its weight behind shale gas extraction, with Osborne pledging to introduce the "most generous" system of tax breaks in the world to encourage fracking.

David Cameron insisted last year that the whole of the country should accept fracking, claiming the controversial method of extracting gas will attract "real public support" when the benefits are explained.

The Prime Minister said the process would not damage the countryside and cause only "very minor change to the landscape".

Tory peer Lord Howell calling last June for fracking in the "desolate" North East

Howell said that the government's attempts to "bribe" local communities to accept fracking would be a "complete waste" and end up "putting backs up and losing rural votes on a major scale". Richer areas "where homes are worth a million will be unimpressed by £100k offers", he said.

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He added: "Those who have visited sites in America will also know that even after installation, the thump of compressors can be sensed up to two miles away, as well as the whiff of diesel from the compressor pump engines."

Critics seized on Lord Howell's remarks and the admission that the government's support for fracking was "seriously flawed".

Green Party leader Natalie Bennett told HuffPostUK: "Lord Howell continues to display remarkable unashamed regional prejudice. But he has also revealed a surprisingly strong grasp about the basic fact of shale gas: the government is wildly overhyping its potential as well as ignoring its risks, the strength of public opposition and the undeniable urgency of cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

"On the day when scientists have focused our attention on the collapsing of the west Antarctic ice sheet, today would be a great time to declare a moratorium on all fracking and fossil fuel exploration in Britain, and a commitment to get serious about energy conservation and supporting renewable energy technologies with stable long-term policies."

Corporate Watch researcher Chris Kitchen said: “Lord Howell's comments are not only revealing of appalling regionalist attitudes, they also fundamentally undermine government and industry spin on fracking and shale gas. Fracking risks polluting our water supplies, it will not solve our energy problems or bring down bills and will only exacerbate climate change. We urgently need to reduce energy consumption, develop renewables and move away from all forms of fossil fuel.”