Opinion: Fracking cannot be at the expense of Climate Change targets

Next Sunday, conference will debate the Green Growth and Green Jobs motion (F10). This wide ranging motion includes, among other things, lines on fracking (56-58) which state:

Permitting limited shale gas extraction, ensuring that regulations controlling pollution and protecting local environmental quality are strictly enforced, planning decisions remain with local authorities and local communities are fully consulted over extraction and fully compensated for all damage to the local landscape

Like many of you I am skeptical about fracking for a number of reasons but primarily because I am absolutely committed to tackling Climate Change, and the lines in the motion do little to address my concern. It seems counter-intuitive that if we are committed to reducing Climate Change we should allow the exploration of a new source of fossil fuels. Add to this the fact that fracking has the potential to release methane, a greenhouse gas 25-100 times more potent than Carbon dioxide (depending on how you measure it) and I come very close to the view that we should ‘just say no’.

But (deep breath) I am also a Physics teacher and believe in evidence-based policy making. So rather than outright reject a new technology I would rather we put robust policy in place to ensure that our aim of tackling Climate Change and increasing investment in renewables are met while also allowing scientists to do their job and report back the facts about fracking in the UK.

To that end, I, alongside Chris Davies MEP and Streatham local party, have submitted an amendment (which has been accepted) to the motion that ensures that if we are to go down this route, it is with extreme caution and without losing sight of our wider aims.

The amendment, which I am looking forward to debating, includes lines which ensure that the tone is suitably more cautious. It also calls for regulations to be both adequate and strictly enforced, that any methane release be included in the UK’s carbon budget, that communities are fully consulted and can have a ‘right to buy’ to shale gas project as we already have for renewables, and also also at least half of the tax revenue is reinvested in ensuring said regulatory bodies are well resourced, more low carbon innovation initiatives are encouraged and to tackle fuel poverty. I will post the full text in the thread below.

It is also heartening to see that today, Ed Davey has agreed with us. He gave a speech at the Royal Society saying that Shale exploration will not be at the expense of Climate Change targets, directly challenging David Cameron’s earlier comments that the UK should pursue this course at any cost to the environment. The speech comes after the release of a report by DECC’s Chief Scientific Officer exploring the emissions from fracking and echoes many of the points we’ve made in this amendment.

As a fracking sceptic, I feel our amendment addresses many of the concerns with fracking, taking a reasoned and pragmatic stance on this issue that is distinctive from any other Party. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this in the thread and in the debate on Sunday.

* Layla Moran is the Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon

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  • nuclear cockroach 9th Sep '13 - 2:25pm

    I’m against fracking on the grounds of climate change; I am fairly satisfied with this amended motion, though, as it ties the process of fracking into the mechanisms of our Climate Change Act.

    I have one remaining concern, which is that exported shale gas may not be included any national, European or multinational greenhouse accounting regime. Is there any way in which this can be addressed?

  • nuclear cockroach 9th Sep '13 - 2:26pm

    Congratulations, Layla, btw. Good work.

  • More power to you Layla!

  • David Allen 9th Sep '13 - 11:54pm

    Good grief.

    We cannot sabotage global warming targets by just trying to use all fossil fuels. Given that we will be using lots of fossil fuels for the next 50 years we will not hit our carbon targets. But hey, if they are British fossil fuels then that’s just fine.

    This kind of attitude does the anti-green movement no favours.

  • Thanks Layla for all this work you must have put in on getting this amendment together and accepted.
    Pedant’s corner – Sceptical, not Skeptical (which is US spelling).

  • Tim Pollard 10th Sep '13 - 8:27am

    I think this is a good amendment, because we need both the party and the country to accept the principle of fracking as long as suitable regulatory safeguards exist. As Stephen W says, there are several reasons why we need it as part of the move to green energy.
    Firstly, even when we get to 100 per cent renewable electricity generation, we’ll still need gas for cooking, heating and industry. These currently account for about three quarters of gas use in the UK I think.
    Secondly, as coal power stations close, gas is a better alternative, albeit not ideal.
    Thirdly, we need security of supply, not to be importing from Russia, which gives them extra political control over us and our fuel prices.
    Finally, if the last government had actually spent their 13 years in power investing in renewables, then we’d be in a very different position. Unfortunately time has run out to replace all the power stations due to go out of service in the next few years. Gas fired is literally the only type that can be built quick enough to fill the gap. Personally, I believe this to be the biggest failure of the Labour years. They had a once in a generation opportunity to redirect the focus of our energy generation, and they dithered, neither deciding one thing or another, and leaving us to clear up the mess.

    Well done Layla, keep up the good work.

  • Richard Fagence 10th Sep '13 - 8:59am

    I congratulate Layla and her colleagues for the work they have done on this. Colleagues who, like me, are concerned at our current dependence on overseas sources of energy and the risks they contain of future ‘ransom’ demands, should take a moment to read the excellent article “There’s Gold in Shale” by Graham Dean in the latest issue (361) of ‘Liberator’. If you don’t already subscribe, I am confident members of the collective will be happy to sell you a copy from their conference stand in Glasgow! The article is clear, concise and, in my view, persuasive.

  • Stuart Smith 10th Sep '13 - 12:02pm

    Your quote “sustainable use of water” doesn’t go far enough. The main question about fracking which no one seems to address is where is the water used in the process going to come from? I asked this question of Friends of the Earth Scotland recently and they hadn’t a clue as they’d never thought about it. Will the water come from the sea? A river? A reservoir? Will it be potable water (what you drink from a tap) or raw, untreated water? Will it be delivered by tanker and how many deliveries per day over potentially unsuitable rural roads?
    One can argue that these are debating points but, they are questions that need addresses.

  • Richard Dean 10th Sep '13 - 2:19pm

    @Layla Moran. Aren’t these proposed amendments rather problematic?

    On m)1), it seems wrong to require regulations in 1) “to be shown to be” strictly enforced, since to do that the fracking will already have to have been started. Catch 22! Would it not be better to require simply that the body that will enforce regulations be identified and be adequately resourced and fit for purpose?

    On m)2), don’t cows emit methane? As far as fracking is concerned, surely it is only necessary to monitor ground-sourced gas emissions in the areas where fracking is done? Has anyone checked whether the existing water companies monitor groundwater gases – I expect they actually do. Has anyone checked whether industrial methane emissions are already accounted for in the UK’s carbon register?

    On n)1), “damage to the landscape” is a very subjective phrase, liable to be understood differently by different people voting for or against this motion, and liable to result in unnecessary misunderstandings and strife if implemented. I think an oil drilling rig is nice, maybe you think it detracts from the view of an ancient brick building, but my grandfather lived here when the brick building was built and everyone then thought of it as an eyesore!.

    In n) 3), how is the figure of “half” arrived at? Has anyone actually done some kind of calculation, or did someone just ask their five-year-old daughter for their favourite fraction? It just looks so immature. And the idea of linking tax receipts to what the tax is used for represents an unwelcome restriction on parliament’s freedom do decide on spending priorities. What happens if the tax take turns out to be huge? Why can’t some of it be used to fund aspects of the NHS that are being cut back, for example, such as mental heath centres?

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