The checks are in the shale

News editor

The controversy over fracking has stepped up a gear, with an MPs committee calling for a moratorium ahead of a vote on the government’s infrastructure bill that could make shale gas exploration easier

GMB is set to hold its International Conference On Fracking In Blackpool this Friday with a view to arriving at a fixed policy on the controversial combustible.

The Blackpool region of Lancashire is one of the fronts on which the battle to extract hydrocarbons using hydraulic fracturing will be won or lost and the current situation appears to favour those opposing the embryonic industry.

Last week, Lancashire Country Council’s planning officer recommended that Cuadrilla be refused planning permission for proposed developments at Preston New Road and Roseacre Wood, citing noise and traffic as the main reasons to oppose the sites. Cuadrilla had submitted applications to drill, fracture and flow test up to four wells at Preston New Road and Roseacre Wood.

At the national level, the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) today called for a moratorium on fracking because the process of hydraulic fracturing has the potential to ‘pose significant localised environmental risks to public health’, and the product – shale gas- is incompatible with climate change targets.

Committee chair Joan Walley MP said: ‘Ultimately fracking cannot be compatible with our long-term commitments to cut climate changing emissions unless full-scale carbon capture and storage technology is rolled out rapidly, which currently looks unlikely.

‘There are also huge uncertainties around the impact that fracking could have on water supplies, air quality and public health.’

Around 83 per cent of UK homes are heated by gas, which is a feedstock for the petrochemicals industry also. Independent studies, notably from the Royal Society and RAEng – have shown that is technologically feasible to utilise shale gas with relatively little impact on the environment and public health.

Commenting on today’s report, Prof Kevin Anderson, Professor of Energy and Climate Change and deputy director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, Manchester University said: ‘Numerous reports have conveniently sidestepped how the UK government’s enthusiasm for shale gas is incompatible with its international commitments on avoiding “dangerous climate change”. It is therefore refreshing to witness the integrity of the EAC in putting science and maths ahead of short-term political goals…EAC’s conclusions are a beacon of light in a sea of expedient halve truths.’

Taking a differing approach, Prof Quentin Fisher, Professor of Petroleum Geoengineering at Leeds University Leeds, said: ‘It is sensible that there is an open debate on the carbon emissions that result from energy production.  However, it is disappointing to see a government committee putting the ill-informed views of anti-fracking groups ahead of evidence-based scientific studies.

‘In particular, the report totally overstates the dangers of shale gas extraction such as groundwater pollution, health risk and geological integrity.  Gas will be a significant part of the UKs energy mix for the foreseeable future and it is preferable that we are as self-sufficient as possible.  Hopefully, MPs will reject the findings of this report and allow UK citizens to receive the economic and social benefits that shale gas extraction could bring.’

GMB’s conference will listen to opinions from both sides of the argument from a list of speakers that includes Mark Lappin, Centrica; Tony Bosworth, Friends of the Earth; Ken Cronin – UKOOG United Kingdom onshore Oil and Gas; and Gary Smith, GMB national secretary for energy and commercial services.

In publicity material, Smith said: ‘[the] UK will be using gas for many decades to come. The gas is going to have to come from somewhere and we need to consider whether it is morally right to import gas from countries like Russia, Qatar, with lesser environmental regulations than here and that have no labour rights to protect workers in the industry or to protect safety. Transporting gas across continents is no good for the environment either.

‘So the issue really is if we are going to use gas as we are – should we be taking responsibility for our own carbon and wider impact on the environment or take the approach out of sight out of mind.’

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