Why Labour should extend their moratorium on fracking

Polls indicate three times more support for local wind farms than fracking - it's time for the government to listen


In the run up to the General Election, Left Foot Forward is taking a look back at the coalition’s record. This week we focus on the environment, and each day we will feature a piece which looks at the impact of coalition policies on the planet over the past five years. Today Oliver Hayes from Friends of the Earth looks at the fracking debate so far this year.

January was a febrile month for fracking. Set against the backdrop of a noisy and celebrity filled anti-fracking rally in Westminster, on the 26th MPs voted on the controversial issue for the first and only time in this parliament.

A vote was called in the Infrastructure Bill (now Act) – an extraordinarily broad piece of legislation covering everything from B roads to beavers – on a proposed fracking moratorium. New York State, Berlin, France, Wales, Scotland, Algeria and even Denton in Texas, the birthplace of fracking, have all adopted moratoria, calling a halt to the destructive technology while evidence of its impacts is gathered and assessed.

The proposal was that an 18 month pause should take place here too, during which time the implications for drinking water, public health and noise and air pollution could be interrogated.

Despite the evident logic of this proposal, it was squashed by the coalition government. Disappointingly the Labour party failed to come out in support of the measure, with whips instead instructing opposition MPs to abstain. But a healthy minority rebelled, with 51 MPs from a cross section of parties placing themselves surely on the right side of history.

The day’s blanket news coverage focused in part on Labour’s hardening in their position on fracking regulations and, significantly, a subsequent concession from government. Where previously Labour supported six key tests, now, Labour said, their 13 ‘regulatory conditions’ must be in law before any fracking can be sanctioned.

Surprisingly, the Conservative minister accepted these conditions, before hastily backtracking on the most important bits in the Lords a week later. Labour’s encouraging response, articulated most recently by Caroline Flint in a national environment hustings, is that unless all 13 of these conditions are on the statute books – including keeping fracking out of those areas from where drinking water is sourced – shale gas extraction will not be sanctioned anywhere.

Strong regulations are of course important (although health impacts are notable by their absence in Labour’s list of 13), but they do not take account of climate change. Friends of the Earth believes fracking should be banned outright principally on climate change grounds: 80 per cent of known fossil fuels must stay in the ground if we are to avoid dangerous global temperature rises, so extracting and burning a new one is not an option.

So while we’d prefer Labour to say they’re against fracking full stop, they should as a minimum extend their effective moratorium until not just their 13 conditions are in law, but also until the government’s climate advisors, the Committee on Climate Change, have finished their assessment of whether fracking and tackling climate change are compatible, due to report to parliament by 2016.

While the nuances of parliamentary positions have evolved in London, Lancashire has of course remained the front line of the battle against fracking.

Cuadrilla’s long running attempt to rev up the rigs in Roseacre Wood and Preston New Road looked doomed after the County Council’s planning officers recommended their applications be rejected on noise and traffic grounds. Fearing an effective death knell for the industry in the UK – the decisions are widely expected to set the precedent for elsewhere – the firm’s lawyers got to work and secured a deferral for several months.

Which brings us to now, and this extraordinary election campaign.

While the national headlines have been largely frack-free, the local battles have – particularly in Lancashire – seen shale front and centre. Hustings in fracking hotspots are dominated by the issue, and over a thousand prospective parliamentary candidates – including a fifth of Labour PPCs – have now signed Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace’s Frack Free Promise, pledging to oppose the industry locally and nationally.

Even three Tories, whose party remains steadfastly ‘all out’ for shale, have signed the promise. Their constituents will doubtless be paying close attention to voting records after 8 May.

And the local pressure is filtering up to manifesto teams. While Labour’s contained little new on the issue, this week’s Green Plan – Labour are the only party so far to publish a bespoke environment document – announced a further improvement, spelling out that the pursuit of fracking mustn’t compromise the UK’s climate change commitments.

While there was no detail of how the party will ensure this, it’s a significant step forward and puts Labour several notches ahead of the Lib Dems’ unqualified support for fracking. Labour extending their moratorium until the Committee on Climate Change reports on climate and fracking is the obvious way for the party to make good on this promise.

Whatever the outcome of the election on 7 May, parties can be sure that fracking is not an issue that’s going to disappear. With 99 per cent of respondents to the government’s consultation – and a third of a million petitioners – opposing drilling under people’s homes, and polls indicating a preference for nearby wind farms over fracking rigs by three times as many people, the next intake of MPs can expect postbags stuffed with fracking objections until the industry – which has now gone four years without a single frack – is rightly sent packing.

Oliver Hayes is a political campaigner at Friends of the Earth. Follow him on Twitter

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.

19 Responses to “Why Labour should extend their moratorium on fracking”

  1. JoeDM

    We need to keep energy costs low to compete in the world economy.

    This is just utter stupidity. If the resource is there, then we should use it !!!!

  2. mememine

    Climate change exaggeration is doing to us what Bush and his false wars did for the neocons.

    You climate blame “believers” deny science’s 97% certainty and the last 34 years of failure at achieving the climate action targets needed to save the planet 25 years ago.
    Only more uncertainty,more wrong predictions, more global disbelief and climate action failure are certain and “unstoppable” now.
    *Occupywallstreet now does not even mention CO2 in its list of demands because of the bank-funded and corporate run carbon trading stock markets ruled by trust worthy politicians.

  3. Bosun Higgs

    I say this newfangled ‘farming’ degrades the environment. Let’s stick to hunting and gathering.

  4. Gerschwin

    Yeah! Lets all live in the stone age so Friends of the Earth can fleece gullible idiotic lefties for luvly jubbly fat cat salaries! #nomorecharitablestatus

  5. Gerschwin

    These goons have no interest in a competitive economy. FoE long ago moved into left wing political campaigning – they need to have their charitable status taken away, there is a petition coming out soon for both them and Greenpeace to be stripped of their charitable status.

  6. Shaun de Bauch

    How to take on a Labour Council and GMP and Peel Holdings and the frackers and beat them…Salford style

    #FrackFreeLancashire I see that Salfordians have been chaining themselves to extreme energy kit again 🙂

    I bring good news from our Salford Mosses and three steps for your own Lancastrian community to see the frackers off….

    Peace 🙂 x



    I thought coal mining was like frackin without sending men to their death to keep the home fires burning.

  8. Leon Wolfeson

    So if a cliff’s there, you’ll jump off it.

    As you talk about not lowering energy costs, but replacing North Sea gas with lower-tax fracked gas.

  9. Guest

    Your goons, right, as you call for ending charity status unless they hate the British as you do. “Petition”, with added firebombs and thugs, no doubt.

  10. Guest

    You chose to do so through your own free will, as you scream your hate at the poor and try and abolish all the charities who are mitigating the effect you’re having on the poor with your neolithic policies.

  11. Cole

    You right wingers are a bit thick. Greenpeace and FoE are not charities, and nor are Amnesty and Hunan Rights Watch (although it’s true they have charitable trusts on the side that do a few things that are permitted under charity law).

    It’s worth remembering that the climate change deniers were running the bogus Global Warming Foundation as a ‘charity’. Fortunately this scam was stopped.

  12. Cole

    Maybe we should stop public schools being charities. Isn’t it absurd that they are – and Greenpeace and Amnesty aren’t? A good example of the elite arranging nice tax breaks for themselves.

  13. Gerschwin

    Couldn’t agree more with you.

  14. Gerschwin

    Dodging the point there Cole old chap.

  15. gscales631

    I liked this bit: There’s every possibility that Bez will take Hazel Blears safe Labour seat of Salford & Eccles

  16. gscales631

    Part of the ‘problem’ is that the Green left is forcing a massive response as if everything should be set up right now before a thing is even known about whether it is possible in the UK.
    I strongly condemned the moratorium because it was an obvious political ploy. However, I would have supported it if it was only for what it said on the tin and allowed for exploration and a few small scale tests to determine if it is even possible and commercial in the UK while studying these other issues and identifying any more issues not handled under current regulation.

    The ‘Greens’ are forcing both the industry and government to have everything in place as if there is already a large industry when all that is needed right now is some exploration and a few tests that would be easy to monitor and inspect. It is obvious that they are not doing this so we have a solid fracking industry with as little impact socially and environmentally as possible. They are just trying to stop it at any cost and bog it down.

    So if they were not involved and were not so obviously pulling the strings and if it allowed for exploration and some small scale strictly monitored and controlled tests then I would have supported the moratorium as a fact finding and discovery exercise about UK shale, as, I think, many others would have.

    It was obvious though that it was an attempt to kill it by those who for political reasons have been spreading so much false information about it for the past few years, which is why it failed.

  17. Shaun de Bauch

    Frackings causing pandemonium up here as you know and its not even properly started..how they couldn’t see that happening is beyond me

  18. Leon Wolfeson

    True, he hasn’t talked about your goons and your dislike of competition, Capitalist.

  19. Leon Wolfeson

    If you condemn it, it’s because you support fracking, and replacement of north sea gas with lower-tax fracked gas. Don’t make excuses!

    There is no “low impact” fracking, and more than “low impact” coal.

Leave a Reply