Anti-fracking campaigners have said the Government should publish an internal report on fracking which "could call into question" the viability of the industry.
Greenpeace, which tomorrow is to welcome actresses Emma and Sophie Thompson to the Preston New Road fracking site, has criticised ministers for refusing to publish the report which it said showed the UK fracking industry was projected to be much smaller than once claimed.
The group’s investigative news unit Unearthed last month said it had learned that forecasts from the 2016 report predicted there would be 155 fracking wells nationwide by 2025.
The forecast came just two years after a study for the industry suggested there could be 4,000 wells extracting shale gas by the early 2030s.
Energy minister Claire Perry has since said the figure of 155 wells by 2025 is “now considered to be out of date”, though the Government has not made new estimates.
But responding to a Freedom of Information request from Unearthed to publish the report, the Cabinet Office said “release of information from 2016, even with the passage of time, could call into question the industry’s viability”.It also said it would affect the ability of ministers and officials to discuss policy frankly.
Greenpeace’s Hannah Martin said: “The fracking industry must be in an even worse state than we suspected if ministers think the publication of a 2016 report could single-handedly throw its viability into question.
"We have heard for years about the imaginary jobs, investment and benefits fracking was supposed to bring now it’s time to look at the facts.
"Ministers have bent over backward to support this failing industry. They have removed homeowners' rights, changed planning law, bypassed local democracy and even tried to suppress a fracking report once before. The least they owe the British public is a little transparency.
"Let's publish the report, let's debate the facts and let people make their minds up."
But Ken Cronin, chief executive of UK Onshore Oil & Gas, said: “Given recent events we would have thought efforts would be better spent on securing our own UK gas, given that 84% of our homes are heated by it rather than having a debate about forecasts from 2016. The global energy markets are volatile and influenced by factors beyond our borders.
"UKOOG’s publicly available analysis shows that 400 sites built in the next 20 years would reduce our gas import dependency by half. The analysis was completed in order that the industry could forecast what supply chain and skills would be required to ensure that maximum value was created in the UK.
"We have now started the exploration phase which has included significant 3D seismic surveying across Lancashire, the East Midlands, Yorkshire and the North West and five wells across four sites have been drilled or are under construction. There are a further two wells with planning permission and planning applications are in for a further 10 wells across six sites.”
A spokesman for Lancashire For Shale said: "Greenpeace has deliberately distorted the Cabinet Office’s letter by selectively quoting one line out of context. When reading the full response, the decision to withhold the information clearly relates to that fact that this would be useful to competitors and disclosure would be prejudicial to operators’ commercial interests.”
TV, stage and film actress Emma Thompson and her sister Sophie are due to visit the Preston New Road fracking site tomorrow.
The Nanny McPhee and Remains of the Day actress and sister Sophie, who is currently playing Rosemary Piper in Coronation Street, will be joining one of the regular protests at the site where women dress in white.
Gillian Wood, from Greenpeace which has helped organised the visit, said they were delighted to welcome back the sisters, who last visited the site in April 2016 when opponents of fracking occupied the field with a “frack free bake-off” event before the drilling began.
Gillian said: “They have always been involved in the anti-fracking environmental movement and we are absolutely delighted to welcome them back. We would like as many women as possible to come along and show support.
“This is a peaceful, safe event run in cooperation with the police, so it’s a good one to do if you are new to anti-fracking or have felt uncertain about taking part in other protests .”