Pugh: we must we must be able to guarantee safety before we start fracking

The Press Association reports:

If Britain is to benefit from a controversial drilling technique to extract gas from the ground “we must be able to guarantee safety at every stage”, a Liberal Democrat MP has said. Dr John Pugh (Southport) said without appropriate and effective monitoring of the process, public support would not be achieved.

Fracking, which involves hydraulic fracturing of shale rock using high pressure liquid, led to the tremors which hit Lancashire earlier this year. Environmental campaigners and local residents have called for an immediate halt to the exploration work, which could lead to vast untapped gas reserves. Energy firm Cuadrilla, which is conducting the explorations, said there was no threat to people or property and pledged to implement an early detection system.

Speaking during a Westminster Hall debate on the “Fifth Report of the Energy and Climate Change Committee: Shale Gas”, Dr Pugh spoke of the risks of unknown factors cropping up in pressing ahead with any gas extraction.

Here’s an excerpt from Dr Pugh’s speech:

There is a rational view of all these things, which goes something like this: if we are to have any conventional extraction, unconventional extraction or even large-scale development, we should do everything reasonable and necessary to ensure that it is as risk free as it can be, but we cannot eliminate risks that we cannot anticipate. There is, therefore, a strong case—particularly where there is genuine public concern—for taking a proactive approach towards monitoring any shale gas extraction process. Such an approach would mean having an open, transparent process, with frequent monitoring, genuinely hard and enforceable regulations and a body that is resourced to enforce those regulations. The Committee’s report makes it clear that the Environment Agency will have more work to do if shale gas takes off in the UK, and it will need to be resourced appropriately, subject to current Government restraints. Importantly, we also need to be assured that whoever promotes large-scale developments has the public indemnity to act if something goes wrong, and that includes dealing with the unknown unknowns. They should also be in a position to clear up. … the Committee is making a plea for a robust regime to govern what is a new process for many people in the UK. In many of its technological aspects, fracking or shale gas exploitation is not that new, but it is certainly a new concern for many people in my part of the world.

My concern about the Committee’s report relates not to the report itself, but to the fact that the Government’s responses to some of our clear-cut recommendations allow a little more wriggle room than I am comfortable with. There are too many “mays” and “cans”, too many expectations and too many statements to the effect that things might be done, could be done or, optimally, would be done, but there is no assurance that they always will be done. If we are to get any benefit from shale gas in the UK, we must be able to guarantee safety at every stage. Therefore we must have appropriate and effective monitoring and enforcement. Without those things, there will not be public support for shale gas, and there will be much anxiety about it, and we will have to accept that we have an asset perhaps to bequeath but not necessarily to use. The ball is in the Government’s court. If they and the agencies that want to exploit shale gas can show to all and sundry that they will hold the various companies concerned to the fire, until they agree to what is appropriate, safe and satisfactory and what passes all reasonable scientific tests, there may be an answer in shale gas for British energy supplies. If not, the issue will be coupled to an unnecessary degree of anxiety.

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  • Tony Greaves 8th Nov '11 - 7:15pm

    John Pugh’s comments are sensible and balanced. I don’t think the “seismic events” near Blackpool are of very serious concern (but try telling that to local people who are worried about them) but if we are going to see a number of applications for licences and planning permission to extract shale gas commercially (Lancashire, South Wales, Somerset, ?Surrey even) we need a pilot scheme. I would not object to that being in Lancashire but as John says it needs to be closely monitored.

    Shale gas is not going to be the answer to our all our energy needs but if it can substitute for imports of gas it could help. Equally it is not likely to be the horror story that it has been in parts of the USA where regulation is much less rigorous than it is and should be here.

    Tony Greaves

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