CONCERNS about shale gas mining should be focused on ensuring high safety standards rather than the fracking process itself, a senior industry figure told an audience of Yorkshire Post readers.
John Blaymires, the chief operating officer at oil and gas exploration firm IGas, was asked to explain why fracking should be allowed in the UK when it had been linked to environmental damage in the United States.
“When you read fracking has polluted ground water it is not the case. There is not one single point of evidence to support that. There are wells that have contaminated the groundwater because they didn’t construct them well because in the US the regulations are not the same as they are here.
“Out of millions of wells there is some evidence that there has been some contamination of the shallow aquifers because they didn’t construct them well, not because of fracking.
“Fracking is only one piece of the whole process. The critical part of the process is constructing the well and this is one of the biggest myths people have got completely mixed up on.”
Pointing to the far tougher regulations in the UK, Mr Blaymires added that the chemicals used in the process were only a tiny fraction of the fluids pumped into each well and were found in common everyday items.
He also challenged suggestions fracking causes earthquakes, comparing tremors recorded during test drilling on the Fylde coast to “a bus passing at the end of the road”.
He was speaking at the first Yorkshire Post Big Debate Live event.
Audience members also raised concerns that the Government’s decision to promise councils will be able to keep all the business rates generated by fracking may influence them to give it their support.
Mark Hill, the head of development management at the North York Moors National Park Authority, said the offer was part of a wider trend.
“We’ve heard talk about wind farms, the community infrastructure levy, new homes bonus – with each of those the Government is suggesting there should be a slice of those benefits going to the local community so it is not new and it would seem to be the direction of travel.”
Ryedale Council leader Linda Cowling was frank about the technical challenge fracking would pose to local authorities.
“People like me and the planning committees who decide these will be very dependent on experts in these fields. This is too big, you can’t become an expert overnight.
“We are just ordinary people taken off the streets and people have voted for us and get rid of us just as quickly.
“When (the experts) tell me something I won’t just be accepting it I will be asking ‘why?’”
A significant part of the discussion focused on the twin impacts of shale on meeting the UK’s energy needs and the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Professor Christopher Bovis, from the University of Hull, suggested fracking could by a vibrant business generating significant economic benefits but other energy sources would be needed to meet green targets.
“I’m afraid this is politically controversial, this is controversial with society but this is the only way perhaps we can move towards a very low carbon society or industry if we are brave enough and informed enough.”
The rising cost of energy was a concern for some members of the audience but Simon Bowens, Yorkshire campaigner for Friends of the Earth, called for a wider definition of cost.
He said: “Yes we have got potentially 40 or 50 years of gas underneath our feet but can we afford to burn it?
“No we can’t unless we want to commit ourselves to climate change on a massive scale we cannot afford to burn that gas.”
He said the cost of gas was rising while the cost of renewables was falling and could become competitive with fossil fuels by the end of the decade.
“Who picks up the cost of the impact (fracking) has on climate change, the environmental cost? It is the public purse.”
The debate was held at the Cedar Grand Hotel in York.