The minister spearheading the UK’s renewed push for fracking has admitted she has never been to a shale gas well.
In the week that fracking restarted in the UK for the first time in seven years, the energy minister, Claire Perry, revealed to a fellow Conservative MP that she had not yet had the chance to visit a shale site.
Perry has spent the past few days calling on the public to “trust the science of shale gas extraction” and insisted that fracking is compatible with tackling climate change.
But asked how many times she had visited a shale exploration site, she said: “I have had a number of meetings with stakeholders interested in shale gas exploration, but have not yet had an opportunity to visit a site.”
The written parliamentary answer came in response to a question by the Tory MP Lee Rowley, who has prospective shale sites in his constituency.
Rose Dickinson, Friends of the Earth campaigner, said: “Unlike the local community who protest outside the Preston New Road site in Lancashire every single day, it is surprising that the minister has never even been curious enough to visit.
“That the minister can cheerlead this unpopular industry without meeting the people living next door – the people who have to put up with trucks, noise, and the industrialisation of their local countryside – is astounding.”
Perry has positioned herself at the centre of the government’s drive to support fracking firms, and vigorously defended the controversial technique in the face of criticism from MPs, green groups and campaigners.
On Monday, she defended pushing ahead with gas at the same time as asking the government’s climate advisers to consider whether the UK’s long-term carbon goals should be more ambitious in light of a recent major report by the UN climate science panel.
“I strongly believe that gas is absolutely part of our future,” she said.
But the government’s top climate change adviser has admitted the timing of the climate goal request and fracking beginning was awkward.
Chris Stark, the chief executive of the Committee on Climate Change, called the coincidence “inconvenient” and “terrible framing”.
On whether the UK could frack and still meet its legally binding climate targets, he told the Guardian: “It’s not impossible to do this. But every time you do this [increase emissions in one sector] you make it harder to do in other sectors.”
This week has also seen Perry backtrack on her proposal, made in a recent letter, to relax fracking rules on minor earthquakes.
Responding to a question from the Labour MP Louise Haigh, who has been campaigning against fracking in the Sheffield area, Perry said: “I can absolutely confirm that I am not considering weakening the monitoring controls on seismicity.”
Cuadrilla, the company that started fracking on Monday at a site near Blackpool, has been publishing seismicity data, which so far shows no tremors caused by fracking.
On Wednesday, three anti-fracking campaigners were freed from prison after the court of appeal ruled their sentences for protests outside the Cuadrilla site had been “manifestly excessive”.