All gas and gaiters

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I am willing to bet that, up until a few weeks ago, few if any of my devoted readers were aware that the UK government has an official Commissioner for Shale Gas. And even fewer will have known that this important post was created last autumn, let alone that it was filled for just over six months by a woman called Natascha Engel. 

But then Ms Engel decided to cease being the Commissioner – thereby saving the public purse some £500 per day. She announced to the world she was quitting because she was appalled at the safety restrictions imposed upon companies that wanted to frack for gas. Not that they were too lax, but that they were affecting the profitability of drilling. 

These restrictions, against earthquakes, were precisely the ones that our government had agreed with all of the companies anxious to frack for gas. But no matter, their effect has been to render any drilling subject to spasmodic pauses, as the companies have regularly exceeded the agreed limits.

All along Ms Engel sided with the companies. Ministers quoted back at her the agreements signed by Ineos, Cuadrilla et al., and refused to alter the restrictions. So, Ms Engel resigned, amidst that wave of publicity. Her indignation at the government knew no bounds. She even wrote in The Times that, “It became clear to me that fracking was the only way to reduce our carbon emissions at any sort of scale.” 

Such hyperbole may sound great when addressing the heads of fracking companies. But it truly doesn’t stand up to one moment’s serious scrutiny. Should it ever work in Europe – and experiences in Poland suggest otherwise – fracking will produce natural gas. Which in turn is responsible for emissions of two of the most serious greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane. Hence the push by the Committee on Climate Change to stop installing gas into new homes.

I wondered quite why Ms Engel was spouting such nonsense. Then I heard Sir Jim Ratcliffe producing very similar arguments. Who is Sir Jim? Why, he is Britain’s richest man, and head of the company with the largest capitalisation involved with fracking, Ineos  

Indeed, it was he who, prior to her appointment as Commissioner for Shale Gas, employed Natascha Engel as a political consultant and advisor. And I am sure he will now be anxious to benefit from her many skills again – at probably more than the £500 per day the government was offering her.