The Observer claims Lib Dems officially ‘blast fracking’ – no!

Balcombe FrackingToday’s Observer splashes with “Liberal Democrats blast environmental damage caused by fracking.” Not quite.

We’ve had quite a lively debate here on Lib Dem Voice on the merits and demerits of fracking (Gilbert, Boddington).  In the Observer article Tony Helm suggests that Liberal Democrats have rejected shale gas extraction. As I said not quite.

Tony references Policy Paper 109, Green Growth and Green Jobs, describing it as an “official policy paper.” That is in a sense correct, but it is not “official policy” as most readers of the Observer might conclude from the phrasing. Whether the policy proposals in Green Growth will become official policy will depend on how motion F10: Green Growth and Green Jobs fares at the Autumn conference.

The policy paper does indeed say that the shale gas extraction in the US has caused “significant local environmental damage and pollution of water tables.” It opines, “There is no realistic prospect… of a ‘shale gas revolution’ in the UK.” But the paper doesn’t reject shale gas, an impression a reader might gain from the Observer article.

Instead, the authors of Green Growth present an option that calls for “limited” shale gas extraction, providing environmental safeguards are in place and communities are “fully consulted over extraction and fully compensated for all damage to the local landscape.”

Depending on how the policy motion fares at the Autumn conference, this could be read as a begrudging acceptance of the necessity of fracking. It is certainly not a Lib Dem blast against fracking.

* Andy Boddington is a Lib Dem councillor in Shropshire. He blogs at andybodders.co.uk. He is Friday editor of Lib Dem Voice.

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22 Comments

  • Sarah Whitebread 25th Aug '13 - 10:38am

    I am working up an amendment to the section in motion F10 that will make it more explicit that shale gas can not be allowed to jeopardise carbon targets.

    If anyone is interested in supporting such a stance our helping with drafting let me know.

  • Nick T Nick Thornsby 25th Aug '13 - 2:40pm

    Sarah,

    Why would fracking allow carbon targets to be jeopardised? Gas is built into the projections as to which energy sources we will use – fracking will primarily mean we use gas drilled for here rather than piping it from Norway. And if the proportion of gas burnt for electricity increases it will be at the expense of coal – which will help us meet our carbon targets!

  • Agree with Nick. Important we make it clear that any fracking will be to replace imported gas not and won’t water down CO2 targets.

    We should keep an open mind on fracking unlike the dogmatic opposition of the Guardianistas.

  • Clear Thinker 25th Aug '13 - 3:54pm

    We should not call something a “Policy Paper” if it is not a policy paper. As Andy clearly points out, the thing in question here is a “Proposed Policy Paper”. Its authors should not have been so arrogant as to assume that everything they decide will be agreed by the party.

    That said, the Observer article is obviously distorted. It seems to be based solely on Section 4.4.3 of the proposed policy paper. That Section does look like Wooly Thinking to me, but Helm could have troubled himself to read just a little further to Section 4.4.4, which says we’re ok with shale gas and fracking if local communities are.

  • Graham Martin-Royle 25th Aug '13 - 4:11pm

    The policy paper does indeed say that the shale gas extraction in the US has caused “significant local environmental damage and pollution of water tables.”

    And I hope it has verifiable evidence, otherwise it should not make the claim.

  • Tony Dawson 25th Aug '13 - 4:19pm

    This Observer artilce looks like either (a) very poor journalism or (b) quite clever journalism deliberately attempting to cause trouble within the Lib Dems.

    Fracking, the way the non-regulated Americans let it go on, in completely different rock strata (far more shallow) than we have for exploitation here in the UK created problems. There is no reason why we should have these problems at all in the UK. I do not mind a bit of import substitution but I would not want to see rapid expansion of fracking causing perpetuation of the ‘cheap hydrocarbon’ mindset which causes CO2 emissions to increase and stops investment in insulation/conservation and alternatives. This gas has greatest value as a strategic reserve.

  • Graham Martin-Royle
    If one is to believe widespread media reports, then there certainly is verifiable evidence. I can understand with every other poster here disbelieving the mainstream media, it is becoming somewhat paranoid here. I yield to no-one in my cynicism of right wing media, and I think Nick Cohen often goes OTT in his criticism. I thought his description of beta males was quite funny, today, I am afraid.

    As for CT’s assertion that Policy Paper 109 is not a Policy Paper, well, I’m afraid this is what the Liberal Democrats call a paper at this stage of development, ie where it is being submitted to Conference for Approval, Amendment, Referral Back, or rarely, Rejection. The previous stage is a Consultation (Green) Paper, where there is a long, free ranging debate in “committee” – all can come along – in the fringes of Conference. The results of that discussion are fed into the Policy Paper, so it has already had a fair amount of discussion. There is no such thing in the Lib Dems as a “Proposed Policy Paper”, I am afraid.

  • Clear Thinker 25th Aug '13 - 4:53pm

    Ok, Tim13, you argue for the status quo. I argue to change the title to Proposed Policy Paper, not least because this clarifies its role and avoids confusion, in the Observer’s illiterati, and in sensible LibDems and others looking on.

  • David Allen 25th Aug '13 - 5:04pm

    “an option that calls for “limited” shale gas extraction, providing environmental safeguards are in place and communities are “fully consulted … and fully compensated …”

    “a begrudging acceptance of the necessity of fracking”

    “We should keep an open mind on fracking”

    Given the commercial pressures, all these statements have a simple, clear meaning:

    Frack On. (But look a bit shamefaced while you’re doing it.)

  • @Tim13
    What evidence is there that the UK system for hydraulic fracturing will not produce the same problems that the US encountered, especially contamination of the water supply? I believe there is a youtube video showing flammable water

  • Clear Thinker 25th Aug '13 - 5:25pm

    I accept that the authors were not being arrogant if this happens to be the Libdem way, so I apologise if I caused offence, but I do think the old LibDem way is not immutable. Ways can always be improved. Another change I would like to see is for LibDem Policy or Proposed Policy papers to cite accessible references for all their major assertions, and to include a list of those references at the end of the paper.

    Citing references is done in many other areas of human communication. The references serve in general to increase the credibility of the document, by demonstrating that its assertions come from somewhere other than the writers’ imaginations or prejudices. The references provide ways for people to check that the proposed policies are based on firm foundations. Also, by looking at what has been referenced and what has not been, a reader can form an idea of whether the writers have truly considered everything that they ought to have considered.

    If references had been cited in this report, they may perhaps have gone some way towards helping with the important issues raised by Graham Martin-Royle and Tony Dawson.

  • Clear Thinker 25th Aug '13 - 5:51pm

    Different people have different ideas about the different credibilities of different sources, of course. Some people will rely on a government agency, while others might assume that all government agencies are biased. Some will believe newspapers, or anything on the internet. But by looking at what is cited, an individual reader can use his or her own approach to help gain an idea of the credibility of the proposed policy.

    With respect to Voter’s concerns, one might cite Simon McGrath (https://www.libdemvoice.org/shale-gas-exploration-why-a-cautious-approach-is-the-right-one-35676.html#comment-258454), or one might go all the way to the source that Simon cited (http://cogcc.state.co.us/library/GASLAND%20DOC.pdf)

  • Paul Griffiths 25th Aug '13 - 5:53pm

    Some Policy Papers do cite references. They all should.

  • @Clear Thinker
    That source is Colarado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, whose mission statement include “Promote the exploration, development and conservation of Colorado’s oil and gas natural resources”.

    Citing sources is all very well but if the sources are themselves potentially biased, (due to who funds them) then should the lib dems rely on them?

  • I found this interesting quote “Hydraulic fracturing was exempted from the Safe Drinking Water Act in the Energy Policy Act of 2005” in
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gasland

  • Clear Thinker 25th Aug '13 - 6:42pm

    @Voter

    This would be my argument: You have your view, and someone else has a different view. If a committee or working group cites the sources that it has relied on, we can each form our own view as to whether they have made good choices. That will then help us make a good choice in the way we vote.

    There is also the possibility for a proposed policy paper to refer to a source that it disagrees with – and to then give reasons for the disagreement. This can also illuminate and inform our voting behaviours.

  • Sorry, Voter, I was intending my post (in my convoluted way) to say I believed there was verifiable evidence, and I would certainly not rule out the famous “flammable water” U Tube video effect happening in UK.

  • Peter Chivall 26th Aug '13 - 10:13am

    To return to Sarah Whitebread’s post, I know of at least 3 possible amendments, 2 of them originating in Sarah’s part of the world: there is one from Steve Coltman of ALDES, one from Stewart Reddaway and some colleagues in Green LibDems (but not on behalf of GLD), and one which Bill Powell and colleagues in East Region Policy Panel are working on (but would move as individual Conference Reps.) I suggest Sarah contacts any of them.

  • @Voter “I believe there is a youtube video showing flammable water”

    This has been debunked. The video showing flames coming out of someone’s tap was nothing to do with fracking at all. I hope the Lib Dems at conference continue the good tradition of making evidenced based policy. Sadly the “frack off” campaigners are miles away from producing evidenced based opposition to shale gas extraction.

  • @Julian
    reading your page, it says the following about escaping methane.
    “There are reports that this has happened due to problems like improperly cemented boreholes. 16 families in Beaver County PA were affected by such an incident.”
    This is hardly a clean bill of health for the industry. In fact, this is appalling!

    It must be a basic requirement that safeguards are put in place to avoid this kind of thing. It is up to industry to provide this.

    One can only ask whether Cameron has adopted the American model. If he has, the protests must continue until politicians agree to educate themselves about the dangers

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