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26.01.15

MPs call for a moratorium on fracking in the UK

There should be a moratorium on fracking in the UK to prevent possible breaches of carbon budgets in the 2020s and beyond, the cross-party Commons Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has concluded. 

The MPs’ report, ‘Environmental risks of fracking’, argues that any large-scale extraction of shale gas in the UK is likely to be at least 10-15 years away. It is also unlikely to be able to compete against the extensive renewable energy sector that the UK should have by 2025-30, unless developed at a significant scale. 

They added that in pursuing fracking, the international credibility of the UK in tackling climate change could also be “critically weakened” and have called for an amendment to the Infrastructure Bill “to explicitly bar fracking of shale gas”. 

Joan Walley MP, chair of the EAC, 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.” 

The report warns that only a very small fraction of the country’s shale reserves can be safely burned if “we are to keep global temperatures below 2 degrees”. And that considerable uncertainties remain about the hazards fracking poses to groundwater quality, air quality, health and biodiversity. 

But a spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change said: “We disagree with the conclusion of this report. We have one of the most robust regulatory regimes for shale gas. 

“UK shale development is compatible with our goal to cut greenhouse gas emissions and does not detract from our support for renewables; in fact it could support development of intermittent renewables. To meet our challenging climate targets we will need significant quantities of renewables, nuclear and gas in our energy mix. Shale gas has huge potential to create jobs and make us less reliant on imports.” 

In addition, UKOOG (United Kingdom Onshore Oil and Gas), the representative body for the onshore oil and gas sector, “fundamentally disagrees” with the key conclusion, a call for a moratorium on fracking. 

Ken Cronin, chief executive of UKOOG, said: “This rushed report ignores the fact that gas is not just a source of electricity but has a major impact on everyday life with respect to products we use, to heat our homes, the cooking we do and the jobs it sustains in industry. The report also ignores most of the evidence of a properly regulated and safe industry in the UK and that gas and renewables work together.” 

He claims that calling for a moratorium achieves only one thing: increasing the levels of gas coming from outside the UK at a substantially higher environmental cost and with significant economic consequences. 

This week MPs will get to vote on fracking – for the first time during this Parliament – and Lancashire County Council will vote yes or no to two shale gas drilling applications by Cuadrilla. 

But a letter leaked to Friends of the Earth reveals how the government is working with industry to make sure that fracking takes off in the UK. In the letter, George Osborne requested that ministers make a number of interventions to fast-track fracking as a “personal priority”. 

Friends of the Earth campaigner Tony Bosworth said: “This letter shows government and industry working hand-in-glove to make sure fracking happens. 

“Such collusion with a highly unpopular industry will just make fracking an even more politically toxic issue. The government should follow other countries and call a halt so we can assess the risks to the environment, people’s health and our climate.” 

The EAC report also states that fracking should be prohibited outright in nationally important areas such as National Parks, the Broads, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, SSIs and ancient woodland. 

The Committee is also insisting that licences and permits must not be issued if commercial operators cannot demonstrate “sufficient resources” and “insurances” to cover full liability in event of pollution incidents. 

Professor Jim Watson, research director of the UK Energy Research Centre, added that public trust in regulations is absolutely essential if shale is to play any significant role in the UK. 

“This may not require a blanket moratorium, but it may mean delays to licensed shale gas activities to allow monitoring to be carried out,” he said. 

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email opininon@publicsectorexecutive.com

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