Fracking OK for 'desolate' North East, says Tory peer


Lord Howell: "There are large uninhabited areas in the North East where there's plenty of room for fracking"

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Fracking should be carried out in the North East of England, where there are large, "desolate" areas, a former energy secretary has said.

Lord Howell of Guildford argued there was "plenty of room" for developments and less concern than was the case over "beautiful natural areas".

But the Archbishop of Canterbury disagreed, calling the North East "beautiful, rugged, welcoming".

Downing Street said Lord Howell did not speak for the government.

Fracking - short for "hydraulic fracturing" - involves drilling deep under ground and releasing a high-pressure mix of water, sand and hundreds of chemicals to crack rocks and release gas stored inside.

Water companies are worried the process could contaminate drinking water aquifers that lie above shale gas reserves. But supporters of fracking say it is safe and essential to making the UK more energy self-sufficient.

Widespread fracking has not started in the UK yet, but Cuadrilla began exploratory drilling in Lancashire in 2011 and many other possible sites have been identified.


During Lords Questions, Conservative Lord Howell, who was energy secretary from 1979 to 1981, asked: "Would you accept that it could be a mistake to think of and discuss fracking in terms of the whole of the United Kingdom in one go?

"I mean there obviously are, in beautiful natural areas, worries about not just the drilling and the fracking, which I think are exaggerated, but about the trucks, and the delivery, and the roads, and the disturbance, and those about justified worries."

Start Quote

We can't have a situation where it's OK for the South to think these things should happen in the North, or vice versa”

End Quote Claire Norman Campaign to Protect Rural England

He added: "But there are large and uninhabited and desolate areas. Certainly in part of the North East where there's plenty of room for fracking, well away from anybody's residence, where we could conduct without any kind of threat to the rural environment."

Despite outbursts from other peers, Lord Howell continued, turning to energy minister Baroness Verma and asking: "So would you agree with me, that the distinction should be made between one area and another, rather than lump them all together?

"And if we can push ahead with this kind of gas production, then obviously it takes us fast away from the kind of coal burning, which is increasing at the moment because of delays in authorising gas production."

Labour's Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton said: "I declare an interest as a resident of Lancashire, who is aware of the enormous beauty of the Trough of Bowland.

"Would you, minister, join with me in condemning the alleged remarks of protesters in the south of England, that all the fracking could be done in the north of England?

"And will you join with me in insisting that the beauty of Lancashire is as important, not more but as important, as the beauties surrounding, for example, Guildford?"


Baroness Verma first addressed her Conservative colleague, saying: "As members are aware, [fracking] is at its early stages of exploration and there will be areas of landscape that won't be suitable for fracking, as you rightly point out.

Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland Bamburgh Castle is among the North East's famed beauty spots

"But we are in its early stages and as the government is determined to ensure that we are not dependent on coal but more on gas, and low-carbon energy sources, I think you make some very important points."

She told Baroness Farrington: "I'm sure that my noble friend did not say that Lancashire was [not] as beautiful. All parts of this great country are beautiful."

Lord Howell, the father-in-law of Chancellor George Osborne, was also the minister in the Foreign Office responsible for international energy policy between 2010 and 2012.

After the comments, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Justin Welby, wrote on Twitter: "North east England very beautiful, rugged, welcoming, inspiring, historic, advancing, not 'desolate' as was said in House of Lords today."

Friends of the Earth's Tony Bosworth called the comments "jaw-dropping", adding: "The government's ill-conceived fracking plans aren't something that can be quietly brushed under the carpet 'up north' - as the villages resisting the drillers in the Tory heartlands of England's south show."

North East Chamber of Commerce's director of policy, Ross Smith, said: "To be frank, this is a ridiculous way to describe a region that boasts some of the most beautiful unspoiled countryside in the UK and a host of the most recognisable and cherished landmarks and attractions in the country.

"However, if the point that Lord Howell is trying to make - albeit in a totally bizarre way - is that the North East has the expertise, the skills and the businesses within our energy sector to help solve the UK's energy issues then I would wholeheartedly agree."

And Claire Norman, spokeswoman for the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: "We can't have a situation where it's OK for the South to think these things should happen in the North, or indeed vice versa."

A government spokesman said: "Lord Howell is not a minister and does not speak for the government. He has not been a government adviser since April 2013."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 742.

    Poulton le Fylde is an up market suburb of Blackpool where property prices are massive that is why the people in the area don't want Fracking. We have to do something about the extreme shortage of fuel in this country and is is very naive to think that wind power will be sufficient. The population in the UK is growing massively and we need our own power supplies soon, anyone for nuclear then

  • rate this

    Comment number 741.

    Has anyone been to the Caudrilla website to see how they opperate,
    i can't post the link to it, because for some reason my last post @ 725 which contained the link got removed, by the moderator. I can't think why, because this HYS, is the reason for this debate now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 740.

    It doesn't say much for politicians of all parties that the UK has been unable to arrive at a long term energy policy over the past 40 years. All govs being afraid to offend some interest or other. We now have a well forecast energy gap within 2-3 years which will necessitate keeping old dirty gas fired plants on line and importing nuclear generated power from France's 58 reactors. We are pitiful

  • rate this

    Comment number 739.

    The proposed fracking is in Lancashire, in the Northwest. Lord Howells is prattling on about the Northeast, where I am not aware of any proposed sites for fracking. Aside from showing great prejudice towards the north, it shows completely ignorance of our geography.

  • rate this

    Comment number 738.

    Moreover, anyone who has a pension fund will thereby have shares within their portfolio & the vast majority include the energy sector. Shareholders hold differing political opinions and live throughout the UK - not just in London & the SE East. I invest in differing energy companies because it offers a good long term investment return. Yes, I will invest in fracking.


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