Why Labour is right to push for tougher fracking regulation

However its proposals for tougher regulation go nowhere near far enough.

Fracking ncrj

However its proposals for tougher regulation go nowhere near far enough

Today’s report by Glasgow University academics, calling for the relaxing of regulations around fracking and earthquake risk is seriously misplaced, and Labour’s Baroness Worthington is right, instead, to push for a tougher regulatory regime.

Fracking in the UK is becoming increasingly controversial. Local people have been hostile to proposals to frack around the country – the latest proposal in Lancashire has sparked overwhelming calls from people who live in the area for the council to reject fossil fuel company Cuadrilla’s application.

Parliamentarians are also debating a new ‘trespass law’ in the Infrastructure Bill which would remove the right of people to object to fracking under their homes.

Shadow energy minister Baroness Worthington said yesterday: “We should take the time now to introduce a proper regulatory framework… and to learn from the mistakes we have seen in the US.”

This is a welcome step from Labour and is in contrast to the government’s complacent approach. Energy secretary Ed Davey says we have “gold standard” regulation, but analysis by Friends of the Earth shows that all that glitters is not gold, and much of UK regulation is flawed, inadequate or ineffectively applied and enforced.

But tougher regulations – which will only make the industry safer rather than safe – do not address the basic fact that fracking would mean more fossil fuels that we can’t afford to burn if we want to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. We need a moratorium on further exploration for, and production of, unconventional gas and oil.

The regulations considered by Glasgow University were put in place following the earthquakes caused when Cuadrilla test-fracked at its Preese Hall well in Lancashire in Spring 2011. In the event of earthquakes, surface impacts are clearly important, but what happens underground is maybe even more so.

The Lancashire earthquakes were relatively low-level, but still strong enough to damage the well-bore. As the head of shale gas regulation at the Environment Agency has commented, this can increase the risk of leaks and cause problems for local groundwater.

And problems with the Preese Hall well didn’t stop with the earthquakes. Recently there have been concerns about further problems with the well, and concerns that it might be leaking gas.

The report’s authors try to reassure readers that fracking per se is not the biggest earthquake concern and that reinjection underground of fracking wastewater is a bigger problem.

They’re right, in that there is more evidence that wastewater reinjection triggers seismic activity. But we should not be reassured – clauses in the Infrastructure Bill, currently going through Parliament, seem to pave the way for wastewater reinjection to happen in the UK.

The Infrastructure Bill is a key piece of legislation that is being used by the ‘all out for shale’ government to make things easier for the fracking industry, often at the expense of local democracy.

It also contains clauses changing the law on trespass: companies would no longer have to obtain a householder’s permission before fracking underneath their property.

This follows moves to give companies tax breaks, to remove the responsibility on companies to notify people directly if they intend to drill beneath their property and to reduce the right for local people to be consulted about the granting of the permits needed before a company can drill.

Many of the claims about the supposed benefits of fracking have been exposed as little more than hype. And the same is true of claims about the UK’s regulatory regime.

The government reassures us that fracking will be safe, but the head of the German federal environment agency, launching its latest study on the subject a couple of months ago said that fracking remains a risky technology and that while we don’t know if the risks can be controlled, fracking should not be allowed in Germany.

What does our government know that the German regulators don’t?

Labour sees shale gas as part of an ‘all of the above’ energy mix. However its proposals for tougher regulation go nowhere near far enough, and this focus skirts over many fundamental issues.

In addition to adding to an unburnable stockpile of fossil fuels, fracking in the UK isn’t a real energy security solution: what assurance is there that any gas drilled in the UK would be used domestically rather than exported if the companies can sell it at a higher price elsewhere?

Fracking is becoming an increasingly politically toxic issue. Despite the increasingly desperate efforts of the government and industry, local communities are far from convinced.

These aren’t just NIMBYs – in the words of Jed Sullivan, Labour’s PPC in Fylde (site of Cuadrilla’s proposed drilling) they are also NIYBYEs: Not In Your Back Yard Either. Communities in the south east are supporting communities in the supposedly ‘desolate North’.

The Labour Party would do well to note how unpopular fracking is amongst supporters. Recent opinion polling showed that 40 per cent of Labour supporters oppose fracking, compared to 36.5 per cent who support it. There is a clear gender divide: less than a quarter of women Labour supporters back fracking.

But the bigger question is about any role for shale gas and oil in UK energy policy. Friends of the Earth believes heading down the high-carbon dead end street of unconventional gas and oil is a risk we don’t need to take. This is why we are calling on David Cameron to focus on clean, safe and renewable energy solutions.

Tony Bosworth is energy and climate campaigner for Friends of the Earth

11 Responses to “Why Labour is right to push for tougher fracking regulation”

  1. swat

    If we are capable of putting a probe on a comet, then we are capable of extracting shale gas without spoiling the landscape. Lets give this technology a chance.

  2. SadButMadLad

    “We should take the time now to introduce a proper regulatory framework… and to learn from the mistakes we have seen in the US.”

    Yep, the US made mistakes and are learning that our regulatory regime is better than theirs and so are learning to implement our system. So no need to learn from the US’ mistakes, we already ban many of the bad practises carried out in the US like open waste water pits. Here in the UK, waste water must be kept in bunded containers. Also flaring is done with enclosed flares, so they look more like the industrial pipes coming out of the back of restaurants than the ones you see on fractivist’s youtube videos with none of the noise or disturbance you see in them.

  3. madasafish

    I suspect fracking will never take off in the UK.

    In the US, the land owner owns the oil and mineral rights so he/she makes money if fracking happens on their land.

    In the UK the state owns the mineral rights so the landowner gains nothing from fracking. And gets a whole load of hassle, noise, dust. etc etc.

    Seems to me that gaurantees fracking will not happen over most of the UK.

  4. Leon Wolfeson

    So when the damage is done, guess who gets to pay for the cleanup? That’s right, the taxpayer.

    No, comet probes have nothing to do with a lack of basic regulation on an industry.

  5. Leon Wolfeson

    Exported? More like it’ll be used to replace North Sea gas, which is far higher tax (and VERY costly to restart extraction on!)

  6. CGR

    Lets change the law then !

  7. sarntcrip

    .NOT GOOD ENOUGH
    LABOUR SHOULD PUT A MORITORIUM ON ALL FOSSIL FUEL EXPANSION AND INVEST MORE HEAVILY IN RENEEABLES IFWE ARE TO CONTRIBUTE TO A REDUCTION IN GLOBAL WARMING TO SAVE THE CHILDREN FROM ECOLOGICAL DISASTER

  8. sarntcrip

    .IF WE CAN PUT A PROBE ON COMET WE CAN MAKE RENEWABLES WORK AND STOP DESTROYING OUR PLANET WITH CARBON EMISSIONS SHALE GAS IS A FOSSIL FUEL FACT.

  9. sarntcrip

    THE NEXT GENERATION WILL NOT THANK US FOR YET ANOTHER DESTRUCTIVE FOSSIL FUEL

  10. sarntcrip

    THE TORIES HAVE ALREADY LEGISLATED TO ALLOW COMPANIES TO EXPLORE FOR SHALE GAS AND OIL UNDER OUR HOMES WITHOUT HOME OWNERS PERMISSION ANOTHER REASON NOT TO VOTE CONUKIP

  11. Guest

    Yea, more cash to heap into company’s mouths at the expense of the taxpayer!

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