David Cameron has told US oil executives of his frustration that the UK has failed to embrace fracking despite his best efforts, and hit out at green groups for being “absolutely obsessed” with blocking new fossil fuel extraction.
His bullish pro-fracking comments at a US oil industry event this week came almost 12 years since Britain’s former prime minister hugged a husky to burnish his green credentials.
“I passionately believe that there is big potential for fracking and unconventional gas in Britain, which has some shale reserves that could make a real difference,” Cameron told the American Fuel and Petrochemicals Manufacturers’ annual conference in San Antonio.
Cameron compared the tens of thousands of shale wells drilled in the US with around 10 in Europe, which he said was pathetic.
“We are going to fall behind if we don’t extract the gas that we have that can make us more competitive, more energy-independent, less reliant on Russian gas,” he said.
Under Cameron’s leadership, the coalition government strongly backed the nascent British fracking industry, saying the UK was going “all out for shale” and introducing powers to fast-track applications.
But not a single well has been fracked in the UK since 2011, as companies have faced tougher planning rules, protests and planning delays. Cameron said he had found progress “painfully slow and incredibly frustrating”.
Environmental campaigners were partly to blame for the failure of the industry to get off the ground, he said.
“The green movements have become absolutely obsessed with the notion that any new form of energy that has any reliance on carbon is a bad thing, so they are just opposed to fracking, come what may.”
However, the former PM said he believed the UK would eventually extract the billions of cubic metres of gas estimated to be trapped below ground in shale.
“Yes, we will do it because there is so much in our national interest, it just may take some time,” he told an audience of oil-refining companies. He said communities would come to accept fracking when drilling wells were up and operating, and proven to be safe.
Polls have consistently shown the public overwhelmingly oppose the controversial technique for extracting gas.
Cameron’s gung-ho backing for fracking, first reported by Platts, is at stark odds with the more neutral stance Theresa May’s government has taken.