It is disappointing that the Prime Minister has chosen to ignore genuine and legitimate environmental concerns over the development of shale gas. His gung-ho dash for gas misrepresents this untested and unproven resource as the silver bullet to all of our energy problems.
Currently going through Parliament, the Government’s Infrastructure Bill proposes changes to the regulations on fracking for shale gas, the most concerted effort to date to overhaul the regulations for shale gas.
Despite clear flaws in the regulatory framework for shale gas, the Government have chosen to ignore genuine and legitimate environmental concerns. I believe that shale gas exploration and extraction should only go ahead if we have the right framework of robust regulation and comprehensive inspection.
Building on work by the Royal Academy of Engineering, Friends of the Earth and others, the Opposition have tabled amendments that cover independent inspection of well integrity, mandatory monitoring for fugitive emissions, a presumption against development in protected areas such as National Parks and mandatory baseline assessments of methane in the groundwater, among other issues. The amendments represent a comprehensive approach, drawing together scientific evidence to bring coherence to the UK’s regulatory framework.
If shale gas can be developed safely, then it could contribute to our security of supply by displacing imported gas in our energy mix. Eight out of ten homes still rely on gas for heating – this is not a fuel that we can do away with overnight. In the context of a declining North Sea, a new indigenous source of gas could therefore help to reduce our dependence on imports.
However that energy mix must be guided by a commitment to a 2030 decarbonisation target for the power sector. Shale gas cannot come at the expense of our climate change commitments.
The Government have a simple choice, they can continue to ignore genuine and legitimate environmental concerns over shale gas or they can adopt these amendments.