Are we in a fracking mess?

Over the past few weeks you could be forgiven for assuming that the party is in a bit of a mess on the fracking issue. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The Scottish and Welsh devolved governments both had a moratorium on fracking on the basis of inherent risks in the technology, with unquantified dangers of seismic disturbance and pollution of water tables, as well as (still unaddressed) risks of waste material transport, treatment and disposal. Permitting planning authorities to reject fracking on these grounds is important. Both our Welsh and Scottish parties supported these moratoria. When a moratorium was debated at Westminster before the election, many of the 58 votes against were from the non-government Lib Dems.
However, as many have said, the evidence for these risks being unavoidable is weak. Fracking can be done safely, from a purely technical point of view. The massively over-interpreted RSE report said so.

It won’t be, as the report was at pains to point out, since the regulations are being progressively weakened and inspection regimes will not enforce them. There will be accidents if it goes ahead, but not because it can’t be done right. The accidents will be because private corporations cut every corner they can, and public bodies don’t have the resources to stop them.
Our opposition to fracking, as it stands now, is exactly as Willie Rennie and the Federal conference stated – that the climate impact (which has zero relevance to the Scottish moratorium that was solely on safety grounds) is unacceptable in the light of post-Paris 2015 goals and our existing commitments to achieving a zero carbon Britain by 2050. The arguments for Ed Davey’s amendment in the debate last Saturday seemed to completely ignore that point, which is the only relevant argument put forward by the motion. They also made multiple completely bogus claims that the original motion was not evidence based. Duncan Brack’s storming summation showed how feeble that argument was.
All three national parties are now clearly aligned on fracking. Without any requirement to justify opposition on the risks of the technology, we are opposed on the simple requirement to meet climate targets and save the biosphere from our fossil fuel addiction. The Green Party is stuck on their risks narrative. We have moved forwards with the evidence.
Lynne Featherstone summed it up very well in her speech and Voice article
We need energy security. We need sustainable energy. We need to meet our legally binding targets. Fracking will not deliver any of these. But it will deliver greenhouse gases.
We must now come up with ways to rapidly reduce demand for gas, so that it declines at the same rate (or faster) as conventional domestic supplies. That is the task for Libdem policy development over the next couple of years.

 

* Simon Oliver is the chair of Green Liberal Democrats

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15 Comments

  • It wasn’t so much a storming summation from Duncan Brack, as a storming proposing speech at the wrong end of the debate. Improperly, for a summation, it introduced a new argument – that there was evidence on the side of a ban – that would have been torn to shreds in the debate had it been suggested earlier.

    But this isn’t the mess that I thought you would be referring to. The Scottish Liberal Democrat conference opposed a ban on fracking, and they are sovereign when it comes to policy for Scotland. The federal spring conference debated a policy for England only. Therefore (as far as member-led policy goes) we are for fracking in Scotland but not in England. The position is complicated by the wielding of a leader’s veto in Scotland – something that the federal party decided against having.

    Back on the topic, we seem determined to make the best the enemy of the good. Yes, there are plans to close coal-fired power stations within a few years, but these plans rely on adequate supplies of gas, and if we don’t have those supplies then the coal plant will stay open, “legally binding” target or not.

    cf increased carbon emissions in Germany following closure of nuclear plant http://www.climatechangenews.com/2016/03/14/german-co2-emissions-rise-10-million-tonnes-in-2015/

  • Peter Watson 17th Mar '16 - 4:17pm

    “We must now come up with ways to rapidly reduce demand for gas, so that it declines at the same rate (or faster) as conventional domestic supplies.”
    Wouldn’t it have been helpful to do that first rather than imagine that banning fracking would make it so. All I see, on the face of it, is that Lib Dems are in favour of importing gas.
    Also, if global warming trumps all, can the electorate assume that Lib Dems fully support nuclear power, won’t oppose wind farms at a local level, etc.

  • Max Wilkinson 17th Mar '16 - 4:22pm

    Simon,

    Here’s your key line:

    “We must now come up with ways to rapidly reduce demand for gas, so that it declines at the same rate (or faster) as conventional domestic supplies. That is the task for Lib Dem policy development over the next couple of years.”

    I think your next blog should come up with a realistic way to do this. It’s all very well opposing fracking, and we have heard many arguments for doing so, but the projections show gas consumption continuing as a substantial part of the UK’s energy mix for several decades.

    Max

  • Duncan Brack 17th Mar '16 - 5:14pm

    So, according to Joe Otten, the new argument I introduced in my summation (apparently this isn’t allowed – nonsense!) was that ‘there was evidence in support of a ban’. Oh come on, Joe – did you not listen to any of the other speeches in the debate, all of which put forward evidence? (just not the evidence you chose to believe). My speech basically supported the arguments we put forward in the motion – that allowing fracking to go ahead will cause unacceptable climate impacts and will delay the introduction of renewable heat technologies. Assuming that the supporters of the amendment were capable of reading the motion, they could have put forward convincing arguments against these points – but they didn’t.

    I think Max Wilkinson is quite right, though, to point to the need to show how we can manage without shale gas. As both Fiona Hall and I argued in the debate, there is huge potential in energy efficiency; and as other speakers pointed out, there are renewable heat options like biogas from waste. We need to do more work to show how it all adds up, and I hope we’ll be able to do just that.

  • Simon Horner 17th Mar '16 - 5:19pm

    The Scottish policy committee’s decision to overturn the conference vote on fracking was justified on the basis that party policy is “to move away from polluting fossil fuels” and that we should not have contradictory positions.

    That is fine if you don’t look too closely at the Lib Dem policy on North Sea oil. Last August, the Scottish party called on the UK government to “provide a stable financial regime to allow the oil sector to maximise the opportunities”. That doesn’t look to me like moving away from fossil fuels.

    I don’t suppose new oilfields are likely to be developed soon given the low world prices, but to be consistent, the party should, at the very least, be supporting a moratorium on new North Sea exploration. In fact, a truly coherent approach would mean drawing up plans for existing oil extraction to be phased out as soon as is reasonably practicable.

    Of course, that would be difficult to sell to the voters and it won’t happen any time soon. Being against fracking, by contrast, goes with the grain of public opinion.

    Politics is a funny business!

  • Can someone, please, answer the following questions, because I simply don’t understand our energy policy is at present. First of all, how long do we think it will be before renewables and other new non fossil technologies provide the bulk (70% ?) of our energy needs ? And what do we burn in the interim ?
    Secondly, can someone explain how stopping a company from fracking is going to prevent global warming if we just burn someone else’s oil/gas instead. And if there is no renewable alternative what are people to do ? I am going to continue to put petrol in my car. I can put Iranian or American petrol in my car, or I can put North Sea petrol in and help create jobs in the UK. Don’t see how either choice affects climate change.
    Sorry, but SNP position (similar to our old position ??) seems reasonable to me – Ban fracking because it’s not safe, support existing North Sea activity in the mid term because jobs and livelihoods depend upon it. I may not be green enough for some but at least it seems to add up.
    Peter Watson seems to be making a similar point. If we are so anti fossil, does that mean we are pro nuclear ? The energy has to come from somewhere, doesn’t it (and don’t say renewables – how many wind farms = one nuclear power station ?).

  • Simon McGrath 17th Mar '16 - 9:06pm

    Renewables are currently 2-3 times (or more) as expensive as gas. Are people really happy to face the level of energy prices increase not using gas would imply ?

  • nigel hunter 17th Mar '16 - 9:18pm

    We will need fossil fuels for decades . Renewable’s and new technology will come along. Nuclear, unfortunately will also be needed. For the near future our energy policy will have to contain all. In the meantime our efforts should be put into developing and learning about all other energy developments to build into a viable energy policy.

  • Neil Sandison 18th Mar '16 - 12:44pm

    William Hobhouse is right renewables are the solution waste can be turned into fuels to power modern energy from waste plants .stop putting it into landfill or exporting it to Sweden with their modern energy plants . Bio gas can come from many sources including milk, beer, and human waste through anaerobic digestion processes . tidal can be utilized .The good thing about these technologies is there rapid rate of development old technologies for fossil fuels take 15 to 20 years to develop .renewable technologies 5 to 7 years .don’t buy into the tories old agenda or large scale projects .Each county or unitary authority should be developing renewable energy projects /strategies to offset housing growth locally produced energy or fuels are quicker to deliver and more sustainable. Diversification of energy locally produced added into the grid will help reduce carbon emissions and help us achieve the Paris targets .

  • Geoffrey Payne 18th Mar '16 - 1:34pm

    Most people live in homes with central heating supplied by gas. There is no proposal to replace gas with electricity within the foreseeable future. Maybe there is scope to improve home insulation to reduce gas consumption, but the bottom line is that we need gas to come from somewhere and like it or not that will have a carbon footprint.
    By the end of the debate I heard good arguments from Ed Long, Ewan Hoyle (for fracking) and Duncan Brack (against). Good that is in terms of substance. In my local party we have a member who makes a good case against.
    So I did something I hate doing at conference, which is that I abstained. I did not feel I knew enough to make a decision. How can it be that good Liberals can look at the evidence and come to different conclusions? Sometimes it might be because of behind the scenes lobbying, or a reluctance to lose face by having to change your mind. Or perhaps in this case it is such a complicated topic. I thought the quality of debate varied, but some contributions were outstanding.

  • Well at least there is some honesty peeping through. It is finally admitted that opposition to fracking is based entirely on the idea that it will prevent windmills being built. Yet windmills require gas power backup too so if windmills are built then we need more gas, not less – unless of course a long-term, high-storage battery miracle is in the offing (which will no doubt not be carbon-neutral either) or unless we continue to build only diesel engine backup (the least green option).

    However the energy crunch is here and now. We have barely 2% capacity and with almost all coal and nuclear plants due to close by 2023 we need to be running just to stand still. If next Winter is cold then we will face blackouts! As said above blocking fracking won’t help that scenario but if it is part of a larger anti-gas agenda then it is only demonstrating outstanding stupidity: Cutting our nose off to spite our face. Nor are we providing the much vaunted leadership by volunteering to be the first ones to run out of energy.

    Is anyone listening to common sense up there? The non-binding agreement in Paris was just gesture politics. Sure everyone wants renewables to replace fossil fuels but the trouble is that they won’t for a very long time yet and meantime yes they are very expensive. If all the green propaganda about cheap renewables was actually true then they would not need subsidised so it becomes a non-issue. The tories merely took the the greens at their word and removed some of the subsidies. All the subsequent brouhaha proves they are not remotely economic yet and everyone knows it.

    Lastly, to repeat the point above. If anyone really believed in climate change being the scariest scenario then they would have to be pro-nuclear. Again, having an anti-nuclear policy proves that folk don’t really believe it at all – it is all just trendy, hypocritical santimoniousness. The voters, believe it or not, can see through all this bluster which is why climate change is at the bottom of everyones list of concerns. What they want is a party that demonstrates that they understand costs versus benefits and so far Libdems fail big time.

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