Jacob Rees-Mogg should “lead by example” and make his the first constituency to be fracked, a Conservative MP has said.
Mark Menzies, the MP for Fylde, challenged the business secretary to start drilling in North East Somerset before imposing fracking on other constituencies.
Menzies’ constituency is one of those that has faced the worst effects of shale gas drilling, with seismic events in Fylde, home to Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site, twice forcing national moratoriums.
“I believe the secretary of state has shale gas in his constituency,” he said. “It would be great for him to lead by example on this, so why doesn’t he ensure the first shale wells are fracked in his constituency and why not? There is no more noble cause than leading by example.
“There is nothing to stop him from demanding that North East Somerset is the flagship project. I am sure after listening to him in parliament, he is very confident people will welcome this with open arms, that communities will celebrate. Let us begin with North East Somerset. I think we would applaud him.”
Rees-Mogg did not respond when asked by the Guardian whether he would take up Menzies’ challenge. While British Geological Survey maps show there could be shale gas under his constituency, there have been no licences granted yet in North East Somerset. However, there are shale gas licences in the neighbouring constituency of Wells, so his constituents would still be affected if those areas were fracked.
Menzies, elected in 2010, has been seeking assurances that the prime minister, Liz Truss, will stick to her pledge to frack areas only after obtaining local consent. This week, the Guardian revealed the government is considering making fracking sites nationally significant infrastructure projects, thus bypassing local planning requirements.
In parliament on Thursday, Rees-Mogg refused to reassure Menzies that his constituents would be able to block drilling, saying instead that they would be compensated. “We obviously want to work with local communities, and it is really important that companies that seek to extract shale gas come up with packages that make what they are proposing to do welcome to local communities,” he said.
Menzies does not believe this to be good enough. He said: “A question put to the secretary of state was how do you define local consent – it was put to him eight times – and answer there was none. The government came to the dispatch box without an answer: it’s got some work to do to reassure members of parliament.
“This is a critical thing for me, the people of this country can understand the issues around energy prices, but above all they expect the prime minister to make sure her government follows through on crystal clear commitments and there is no backsliding or rephrasing.”
He hinted that Truss could face a rebellion from backbenchers should she go back on her word: “Every Conservative colleague who has fracking in their constituency is taking the prime minister at her word that it will only go ahead with local consent, and the strength of feeling will be across the parliamentary party, for all of us who will be affected by this.”
Menzies has been dealing with fracking and its effects on his constituency for 12 years, and did not always oppose it. However, after experiencing disruption, local anger and earthquakes, with no benefits to the constituency, he has become a vocal opponent of shale gas extraction locally.
“I’ve been doing this for 12 years. For a lot of the time I didn’t oppose it. I took the view that you had to consider whether it could be done safely, if local people could come with you, if it has benefits locally or nationally. And now we have seen the result,” he said.
“So anyone who says it hasn’t been tried doesn’t know what they are talking about it. If the industry wants to keep fracking the same piece of rock - I would highlight the article in the Guardian that highlights the fact the founder of Cuadrilla says it would not work.
“For those Conservative MPs who don’t have shale gas and think it’s all fabulous, I would say think if it was your constituency and the people you represent. You would need to take their concerns onboard, you wouldn’t brush them aside.”
• This article was amended on 23 September 2022 to correctly refer to the British Geological Survey, rather than the British Geographical Survey as an earlier version said due to an error introduced during editing.