The shale gas explorer Cuadrilla has accused the Labour party of being divided on its proposed fracking ban and of unnecessarily politicising the search for shale gas.
Francis Egan, the chief executive of Cuadrilla, which is only weeks away from beginning the UK’s first fracking in seven years, said the prospect of a Labour government coming to power was a risk that he would be “silly to ignore”.
The shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, recently said opposition to fracking was a core issue for the party and the policy had “overwhelming” support from the Labour movement.
However, Egan argued Labour was not united on a ban. “Even in Labour, although the leadership are increasingly virulently outspoken against it [fracking], the GMB union is equally virulently outspoken in favour of it, for very good reasons. As with many policies within Labour, it depends who you talk to.”
After years of delays because of planning battles and regulatory changes, Cuadrilla is finally within touching distance of fracking at a site between Preston and Blackpool.
But if the government collapsed and Jeremy Corbyn was elected prime minister, that could kill the shale industry before it even started its exploration phase.
“It’s certainly a risk. The issue has become fairly highly politicised, which from my perspective is unfortunate because as far as fracking is concerned I think it’s good under any government,” Egan said.
However, he said he did not worry about a ban because there was little he could do about it.
Rebecca Long-Bailey, the shadow business secretary, said: “Labour’s position on fracking is unequivocal: we will ban it.”
A growing number of Conservative politicians are also voicing opposition to fracking, in particular over the government’s recent proposals to help shale projects through the planning system.
The Tory MP Mark Menzies, whose constituency includes Cuadrilla’s fracking site, branded the planning changes “frankly bonkers”.
Lee Rowley, the Tory MP who chaired a parliamentary debate on the proposals last week, said plans by fracking firm Ineos to drill for shale gasrisked “wholesale industrialisation” of the Derbyshire countryside in his constituency.
Another Conservative MP urged a rethink because there was no parliamentary majority for planning changes but energy minister Claire Perry argued they were necessary.
A Conservative party source told the Guardian: “Tories are getting jumpy about this policy.”
Cuadrilla said the government’s most significant proposal was the move to make drilling shale wells “permitted development”, meaning they would no longer need planning permission.
The firm aims to start fracking this month or in early October. An oil services company has been contracted for the process, where water, sand and chemicals are pumped at high pressure underground to fracture shale rock and release the gas within.
The fracking of two horizontal wells will be done slowly because of concerns over seismic activity, meaning the process is expected to take around two and a half months. “In the US, that would take about two weeks, working 24/7,” Egan said.
The company has faced protests against its Preston New Road site but Egan said “we are managing our way through” the opposition. The company, like other fracking firms, has secured an injunction against protestors.