The case for fracking in Britain has weakened because of government action to extract more oil and gas from the North Sea and meteoric growth in renewable power, according to a Conservative MP tasked with developing the party’s energy policy.
James Heappey said the new rules on tax relief for offshore oil and gas fields announced in last week’s budget could change the energy landscape.
“I suppose there’s a question mark over whether we’ve managed to unlock that [offshore], is an onshore industry as important as it was a couple of years ago,” said Heappery, who was recently appointed chair of an internal policy committee on energy.
There are believed to be 20bn barrels of oil left in the North Sea oilfields.
Asked whether the absence of shale gas in the budget and government’s recent flagship climate plan showed the Conservatives were going lukewarm on fracking, the MP for Wells said: “I can’t speak for the party. I’ve been encouraged by it fading away … I don’t know whether by accident or design.”
His comments came as the government prepared to issue its final consent for hydraulic fracturing at Kirby Misperton in North Yorkshire.
If the green light is given in December, as expected, the fracking project will be the first in Britain for six year. It follows years of delays because bans and planning battles.
In an interview with the Guardian, Heappey said the rationale for exploiting shale gas had been undercut by the growth in wind and solar power, and by new technologies that can reduce big energy users’ demand at peak times.
“If we can fill the gap in revenues through the North Sea, and renewables and clean tech are developing so quickly that gas as a bridge fuel [to renewables] is less important, you just start to wonder what the need is [for shale],” he said.