Andrea Leadsom: Fracking is an opportunity not to be missed '“ or feared

YOU'LL have seen a lot written about fracking and the decision by North Yorkshire County Council on Third Energy's application to carry out fracking in Kirby Misperton.
Protesters outside County Hall, Northallerton, where councillors backed a fracking application.Protesters outside County Hall, Northallerton, where councillors backed a fracking application.
Protesters outside County Hall, Northallerton, where councillors backed a fracking application.

Clearly it is a topic that sparks strong opinion, both for and against, but it is also clear that the majority of people say that they do not know a lot about fracking – 88 per cent according to my department’s most recent survey.

So it’s really important that people have access to all the facts about fracking so they can see past the myths and make their own minds up based on the evidence.

First and foremost, people want to know about safety.

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We have insisted upon the highest safety standards as well as a tough regulatory regime, and I have complete confidence that this will ensure that fracking can go ahead safely.

If we believed that fracking could lead to water contamination, damage our environment or risk people’s health, then there is absolutely no way we would support it.

We frequently read about comparisons to the industry in the US and I can’t stress enough that the way we do things in the UK is completely different.

You only need to look at the protests against nuclear power in the 1980s, and drilling in the North Sea before that, to see that people have had concerns over new processes before, but what has followed for both those industries has been decades of safe operations, providing secure energy for the UK that continue today.

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Fracking is now undergoing that same scrutiny and I’m confident that in the decades to come people will view it as just another normal, safe industrial process.

But why do we need it?

We inherited a legacy of under-investment in our energy infrastructure which has led to the UK needing to upgrade old power stations, many of which are operating beyond their intended lifespan.

We need a system fit for the 21st century, replacing coal with gas, nuclear, and renewables, and fracking is a key part of those plans.

A shale gas industry will not only boost our economy and create thousands of jobs across the supply chain – it will help to guarantee a secure energy supply which is an absolute must for this government.

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By 2030, we expect to be importing close to 75 per cent of the gas we consume, a significant increase on the amount we currently import.

By making the most of our home-grown gas we can safeguard our own domestic supply while also cutting our carbon emissions, helping to combat climate change.

There is a big challenge in how we get from where we are today – dependent on coal and gas for over 50 per cent of our energy – to a low carbon future.

Moving from coal to gas would make a huge contribution to reducing our carbon footprint, and is the “bridge” we need for many years to come.

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Of course we are fully committed to the development of the renewables industry and I hope to see this continue to flourish – but wind and solar will only provide us with electricity.

The vast majority of households in the UK still need gas for heating and cooking and will do for some time to come, and it is also vital for our manufacturing industries.

Making sure that people and businesses have a constant, secure gas supply that they can trust is not negotiable.

Producing our own gas from our own shale resources will ensure that we are able to do this.

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Shale gas from fracking could also ensure that we have a reliable mix in our electricity supply.

Solar panels don’t generate electricity when the sun isn’t shining, and wind turbines don’t generate electricity when there’s no wind.

They are a valuable part of our energy mix, but you also need that consistent and reliable power that isn’t dependent on weather conditions which are beyond our control.

Gas gives us this secure power, along with other technology such as nuclear.

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And by exploring our shale
gas potential we can make sure that as much of this gas as possible comes from our own resources.

I really believe that this is an opportunity we can’t afford to miss – but safety will always be the most important thing and we aren’t taking any chances.

Authoritative studies, carried out by world-class institutions, scientists and other experts, consistently find that if we regulate fracking properly, it poses no more risk than those similar, already established, industries.

Now is the time to start exploration, to find out just how much shale gas is there, and start developing this exciting new industry so we can all reap the benefits.

Andrea Leadsom is the Energy Minister and a Conservative MP.