With a general election just six weeks away, the British political rumor mill is churning over the stances the parties could take on a slew of issues. Now reports have surfaced that Boris Johnson could be considering a total ban on fracking for shale gas in the country.
The source of the rumors is, for the time being, unnamed, but the political calculus makes sense. Fracking—the extraction of gas and oil from shale rock using hydraulics—is controversial for a range of reasons. Shale oil and gas are fossil fuels, and as such their extraction runs counter to the government’s legally binding commitment to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. But there are also concerns that fracking can cause earthquakes and other environmental hazards, with a series of tremors having been recorded near a fracking site in Lancashire this year. The process has already been banned by several E.U. members, including Ireland, France, Germany and Bulgaria.
As such, fracking is extremely unpopular among voters. A major study this year found that only 32% of respondents in the U.K. supported shale gas extraction. Such statistics stand in stark contrast to the extreme popularity of environmentally friendly alternatives to fossil fuels, with a government survey last year finding that 85% of Britons support renewable energy technologies such as wind, solar and hydroelectric power.
For his part, Boris Johnson is on record as supporting his predecessor Theresa May’s 2050 net-zero emissions target, saying that Britain can, “lead the world … in reducing greenhouse gases that cause climate change.” Johnson is also a proponent of an ambitious project to build a cutting-edge nuclear fusion plant by 2040—though nuclear experts have cast doubt upon the plans. The center at which the research is being carried out says such a capability is still decades away, and experts note that the project—Joint European Torus (JET), located at the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy in Oxfordshire—would not be possible without the cooperation of the E.U., the body that Johnson says he is committed to leading the U.K. out of.
Regardless, if Johnson’s Conservative party does indeed announce the end of British fracking, it will a major about-face: the Tories are traditionally regarded as having close ties to the fossil fuel industry. Earlier this month, the party hired a fracking industry lobbyist to help write their manifesto. Also this month, it was revealed that a £1 billion ($1.3 billion) export finance commitment intended to support green energy would instead be used to invest in shale oil extraction in Argentina, which has the world’s third largest shale reserves.
But the current feeling in and around Westminster is that cutting ties with such an unpopular industry would be a price worth paying for some much-needed political capital.