As MPs prepare to vote on a Bill which would pave the way for shale gas extraction, or fracking, to take place in the UK, the MPs who make up the Environmental Audit Committee have been accused of placing green campaigners’ views above scientific evidence when submitting their report on the issue.
The EAC, which includes the Conservative former environment secretary Caroline Spelman, have called for a moratorium on fracking on the grounds that it is “incompatible” with Britain’s legally-binding climate change targets and also risks water and air pollution, the Telegraph has reported.
Labour MP Joan Walley, chair of the Committee, 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.
“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 Government is trying to rush through changes to the trespass laws that would allow companies to frack under people’s homes without permission. This is profoundly undemocratic and Parliament should protect the rights of citizens by throwing these changes out when they are debated later today.”
The Committee has moved one amendment which would ban fracking, and another which would at least ban fracking under national parks.
However, Government sources have called the report “total rubbish”, whilst academics have also criticised the Committee’s report.
The EAC cites evidence from Paul Mobbs, who self describes as a “freelance campaigner, activist, environmental consultant, author, lecturer and engineer”, and a former “electrohippie”. He currently runs a “disorganisation” called the “Free Range Activism Website”.
Their report notes that “Paul Mobbs believed there were failings” in reports from the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering and PHE, which the government had cited in its support for fracking.
However, 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.”
“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.”
Even the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is often accused of overstating the risks of climate change, has previously said that shale gas could be used to tackle climate change.
The EAC report “misses the point that about 83 per cent of UK homes are heated by gas,” said Prof Zoe Shipton of the University of Strathclyde. “While there is an urgent need to address the challenge of climate change, even in the greenest of ‘going green’ scenarios, the UK will be dependent on gas for many years,” she said.
Professor Quentin Fisher, who is of petroleum geoengineering at the University of Leeds said: “It is disappointing to see a Government committee putting the ill-informed views of anti-fracking groups ahead of evidence-based scientific studies. The report totally overstates the dangers of shale gas extraction such as groundwater pollution, health risk and geological integrity.”
Meanwhile, two of Britain’s biggest unions have written to Labour MPs urging them not to support a ban on fracking. GMB union said in their letter “It would be premature to rule out the prospect of fracking when we don’t know if the industry is viable and, crucially, when so many of the issues around energy and security of supply remain unresolved.” The Unite union has also written to Labour MPs making the same case.
Nonetheless, Labour MPs have tabled amendments designed to hobble the fracking industry if the go-ahead is given. Tom Greatrex, Caroline Flint and Geraint Davis have tabled an amendment entitled Hydralic fracturing: necessary conditions which lists 13 onerous conditions that would have to be met before fracking could take place.
They include monitoring of the site for 12 months prior to fracking, only using substances which have been approved by the Environment Agency, a responsibility by planning authorities to consider “the cumulative impact of hydraulic fracturing activities in the local area” and for all residents “in the affected are [to be] notified on an individual basis”.