GWYNNE BLOG: Why fracking cannot come at expense of our environmental standards

FrackingLabour will force a vote in Parliament later today (Monday 26th January) to prevent any shale gas developments in the UK unless serious loopholes in the environmental and safety regulations are immediately closed.

 

It should be simple common sense that shale gas extraction should not be allowed to go ahead anywhere in the UK without a proper system of robust regulation and comprehensive inspection. But the Coalition has chosen to ignore genuine and legitimate concerns about the current framework – indeed, David Cameron appears to be prepared to accept shale gas at any cost.

Labour first pointed out flaws in the current regulation back in March 2012 – since then we’ve won concessions from the Government on proper seismic monitoring, well-by-well disclosure of frack fluid and protections for water supplies, but very significant and serious gaps remain. Worse still, the Tories and Lib Dems are stubbornly opposed to further regulation, despite the clear evidence that it is absolutely necessary.

That’s why the Labour Party have worked with organisations including the RSPB, Friends of the Earth and the Local Government Association, drawing on work by Royal Academy of Engineering and other bodies, and produced a list of 13 necessary conditions to reform the regulatory regime for shale gas. So Labour will vote to prevent any fracking in the UK, until these rigid environmental and safety conditions are put in place.

The conditions cover independent inspection of well integrity, mandatory monitoring for fugitive emissions, a presumption against development in protected areas such as National Parks and other major issues. They represent a comprehensive approach, based on scientific evidence, to bring coherence to the UK’s regulatory framework.

The Tory and Lib Dem opposition to these sensible measures and assurances stem from a near fanatical and ideological faith in the potential benefits of shale gas. 

These have been misleadingly overhyped at every turn. Just one well has been fracked in the UK – in Poland, they drilled almost 100 wells, only to discover that the resource was not economic to extract. Like many ‘gold rushes’, Poland’s shale gas turned out to be a fantasy, their estimated reserves cut by 90%. The lesson from Poland is that by trying to turn shale gas into a silver bullet for all our energy problems, David Cameron is banking on a resource whose potential in the UK is unknown.

Nor would UK shale gas deliver the benefits seen in the US, where widespread production led to falling prices. The geological, regulatory and market conditions of the UK mean that any gas produced will be more expensive to extract and will be sold at the current European price. David McKay, then the Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor, rubbished the argument for lower prices.

But the most important factor for me is that nothing can come at the expense of our environmental standards. That is why I am pleased Labour will vote to prevent any developments of shale gas in the UK unless the Tories and Lib Dems concede to the much needed tightening and fundamental reform of the regulatory regime. 

We are just not going to allow this country to become a guinea pig for the ideological free marketeers when it comes to the issues of fracking.

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