Owen Paterson has come under attack from environmental campaigners, after admitting ministers had “failed so far” to convince the British public that fracking can be safely carried out in the UK.
The environment secretary told the Lords select committee that groups opposed to fracking were winning because they wear “exciting clothes” and have “quick slogans”.
Paterson said, “There is a large problem with public opinion, where those who are opposed have made all the running… Frankly, we are behind the curve.”
A series of surveys by researchers at the University of Nottingham this week revealed that public backing for the shale gas industry had slipped following several protests and concerns around water contamination. Paterson conceded that government ministers had “failed so far to win the public argument”.
Greenpeace energy campaigner Lawrence Carter said the environment secretary had “become a walking satire of this government’s two-faced attitude to climate change”.
He added, “One day he’s visiting flood-hit communities, the next day he’s defending a controversial technique to drill for more of the same fossil fuels which scientists agree are making extreme weather events like floods more common.”
Carter argued that the government was speeding up the process by which fracking permits can be obtained, whilst stripping away legal protection for homeowners opposed to drilling near their homes.
The government’s controversial plans to encourage fracking, through offering financial incentives to cash-strapped councils, were criticised by several high-profile figures, including Green party MEP, Keith Taylor, who branded the moves as a “bribe”.
Another Green party politician, José Bové, said that he was ready to bring the fight against fracking to the UK, having already defeated firms in France, where the controversial method has been banned.
Meanwhile, a recent poll suggested that just one in five people in Britain would support fracking activity in their local area. Support for the shale gas extraction method increased with distance from their homes.