‘Moratorium needed’ over fracking


Published: Monday 26th January 2015 by The News Editor

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A moratorium on fracking is needed amid concerns over local environmental risks and climate change, a committee of MPs has demanded.

The cross-party Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) warned extensive production of unconventional shale gas, which is extracted through the controversial process of fracking, is not compatible with the UK’s goals to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The committee also called for fracking to be “prohibited outright” in protected areas such as national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and ancient woodlands, and banned in all water source protection zones, which feed drinking water aquifers.

In a report published ahead of the final Commons debate on fracking legislation in the Infrastructure Bill, the EAC warned of an “extensive range of uncertainties” over hazards ranging from polluting groundwater and water supplies to noise and disruption.

There was also a lack of public acceptance of fracking, they said.

A number of the MPs on the committee have tabled an amendment to the Infrastructure Bill calling for a moratorium on fracking for shale gas to reduce the risk the UK misses its targets to cut carbon emissions.

The Government has said it is going “all out” for developing a shale industry in the UK – claiming it would create jobs and growth, reduce energy prices and cut the country’s reliance on gas imports.

Supporters of exploiting the unconventional gas also claim it could be a “transition” fuel helping move the UK from the most polluting fossil fuel, coal, towards a cleaner energy supply.

But the MPs said shale gas could not be considered a transition fuel as any large scale extraction would be at least 10 to 15 years away, by which time dirtier coal would already have been phased out to meet EU rules on emissions.

The shale industry would not be commercially viable unless developed at scale, so it could compete with renewables, but large-scale fracking for the fossil fuel cannot fit within increasingly smaller budgets for how much carbon the UK can emit, they said.

“A moratorium on the extraction of unconventional gas through fracking is needed to avoid both the inconsistency with our climate change obligations and to allow the uncertainty surrounding environmental risks to be fully resolved,” they urged.

The committee’s chairwoman, Labour MP Joan Walley, said fracking could not be compatible with long-term commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions unless full-scale technology which captures and permanently stores carbon was rolled out rapidly – something which looked unlikely.

“There are also huge uncertainties around the impact that fracking could have on water supplies, air quality and public health,” she said.

She added: “We cannot allow Britain’s national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty to be developed into oil and gas fields.

“Even if a national moratorium on shale drilling in the UK is not accepted there should be an outright ban on fracking in such special sites.”

The report is published ahead of MPs debating and voting on the Infrastructure Bill.

A decision was also due this week in Lancashire, one of the areas where shale is thought to be most abundant, on planning applications for two new fracking exploration sites between Blackpool and Preston.

But shale company Cuadrilla requested last week that the decision be deferred as it submitted “additional information”, after planning officers for Lancashire County Council recommended the applications be turned down on noise pollution and traffic grounds.

The Infrastructure Bill includes measures to make it easier for energy companies to drill under people’s homes without their permission and allows them to leave “any substance” deep underground.

The committee criticised the changes to trespass laws to allow fracking without residents’ permission as having serious implications for citizens’ rights, with Ms Walley calling on Parliament to throw out the “profoundly undemocratic” proposals.

To coincide with the final debate of the Bill, which has seen a number of amendments on fracking tabled, a protest is being held outside Parliament, with speeches by Vivienne Westwood, Bianca Jagger, and former UK climate envoy John Ashton.

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.”

Published: Monday 26th January 2015 by The News Editor

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