Jacob Rees-Mogg has been accused of an “absolutely outrageous slur” after he suggested opposition to fracking has been funded by Vladmir Putin.
The business secretary’s comments came as he faced questions in parliament on Thursday over the government’s decision to lift the UK’s ban on shale gas extraction.
“I’m well aware that there have been objections to fracking,” he told MPs. “But I would also note that there have been stories widely reported that some of the opposition to fracking has been funded by Mr Putin’s regime.”
His remarks came as he defended the government’s decision to formally lift a ban on fracking for shale gas despite a scientific report warning that forecasting the occurrence of “large earthquakes” remains a “scientific challenge.”
Cat Smith the Labour MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood, had asked Mr Rees-Mogg if he could clarify for her constituents whether they will be given the opportunity to decide whether fracking happens in Lancashire.
Ed Miliband, Labour’s shadow climate and net zero Secretary, described Mr Rees-Mogg’s comments as an “absolutely outrageous slur” and condemned them as shameful and disgraceful.”
In 2014, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, then secretary-general of Nato, told Chatham House think tank in London that Mr Putin’s regime was behind attempts to discredit fracking in Europe.
“I have met allies who can report that Russia … engaged actively with so-called non-governmental organisations – environmental organisations working against shale gas – to maintain European dependence on imported Russian gas,” he said. Mr Rasmussen reportedly declined to give details of those operations, saying only: “That is my interpretation.”
Nato’s press office said at the time that Mr Rasmussen’s comments were a reflection of his personal views and not official policy.
Green groups have firmly rejected the accusation, saying they were not involved in any Russian attempts to discredit the practice and that they opposed fracking on environmental grounds.
In 2016, The Times reported that Ofcom was investigating RT, the Kremlin’s English-language TV channel, for bias after it launched an inaccurate attack on a fracking company.
The investigative news site De Smog, which monitors the “undue influence” of climate science denial and the fossil fuel industry on UK energy and climate policy, has described the claim that protests against fracking have been funded by the Kremlin as “baseless”. It noted the claim has been “promoted by opponents of climate action” following Russian’s invasion of Ukraine.
Friends of the Earth energy campaigner Danny Gross said: “Any government that’s serious about tackling the energy and climate crises wouldn’t stoop so low as to make these ludicrous and baseless allegations in the House of Commons.
“Communities across the country are raising legitimate concerns – backed by the science – that fracking causes earthquakes, industrialises the countryside and contributes to climate breakdown and the fact that it will do nothing to tackle the cost-of-living crisis.
“The only sensible solution is to invest in comprehensive home insulation and cheap and popular homegrown renewables.”
Leo Murray, co-director of the climate charity Possible, said Mr Rees-Mogg’s claim that Putin has funded opposition to fracking is a “complete smear by someone clutching at straws.”
“The reality is that the overwhelming majority of the British people oppose fracking without any need of fictional handouts from the Kremlin,” he said.
The government has said it will support fracking only where there is “local support” but has not explained how they will measure local support for or opposition to fracking.
Mr Rees-Mogg, whose brief involves overseeing the UK’s energy policy, said only that companies will have the responsibility to “develop packages that make the extraction of shale gas attractive to local communities.”
His remarks have led to accusations that he was conflating consent with compensation.
Asked by The Independent if Mr Rees-Mogg had any evidence to back up claims that some opposition to fracking has been funded by Mr Putin, a member of his team pointed to The Guardian’s 2014 report of Mr Rasmussen’s remarks and the 2016 article in The Times.
A BEIS spokesperson said: “With Russia waging its illegal war in Ukraine and weaponising energy across Europe, it’s more important than ever to ensure no option is left off the table to improve our energy security and domestic energy supply.
“Lifting the pause on shale gas extraction will allow us to gather further data and make sure this is done as safely as possible and where there is local support.
“When considering future applications for consent, Ministers will look closely at the support seen for local projects, as well as what kind of community benefits will be put in place.”