the NORTH Yorkshire Moors Railway, of which I have the honour to be President, is an attraction to rival Castle Howard, Flamingo Land, the natural beauty of the moors and vales, hills and dales and magnificent coast.
Yet this fragile Ryedale rural economy could be imperilled by fracking over the wishes of local people who fear for their health, the safety of the water and the value of their homes.
There is also concern of disruption to their everyday lives from increased lorry movements, bringing construction material in and removing waste substances out from the site.
A number of countries have banned fracking. These include France, Ireland and Germany, as well as Scotland and certain states and provinces in Australia, Canada and the United States.
Such bans were put in place following concerns expressed by the public regarding health issues, pollution and damage to the environment.
Will the Government accept that, while hydraulic fracturing may boost UK energy needs in the short term, that this technology has never been tested anywhere in the UK ever before and that the level of self regulation is inappropriate, given the potential long-term damage to the environment, people and property?
Britain prides itself on tough regulation for the offshore oil industry yet accidents do happen, as the Piper Alpha incident showed in July 1988 with 167 deaths from a catastrophic event: an explosion and resulting fires.
The Cullen Inquiry into the tragedy made 106 recommendations for changes to North Sea oil procedures, the most significant of which required the operators to present a safety case and moving responsibility for safety in the North Sea from the Department of Energy to the Health and Safety Executive, thereby ending the conflict of interest in having production and safety overseen by the same agency.
Of particular concern in this nascent, unconventional, onshore fracking industry in the UK, which must be closely monitored, will be the amount of flow-back fluid resulting from the process and precisely how the waste water will be treated and disposed of, with the regulatory and technical mechanisms for dealing with it being largely untried and untested.
Assurances have been sought but not yet given as to how the waste water from the fracking site at Kirby Misperton will be removed and disposed of. What is clear, however, is that dumping waste water – even after treatment – into main water courses, canals or the sea would be unacceptable.
Can the Government give an assurance that any proceeds from the fracking operations will be spent on the local community to make good any short or long-term damage and that the energy created will be primarily used in the immediate area to reduce fuel bills of those living locally, in what is after all, one of the coldest parts of the country?
Will the Government further ensure that any fugitive emissions of methane gas in future years, which may escape from the wells long after drilling has been completed, will be the responsibility of the fracking companies, not the landowner at that time?
As an alternative source of energy, will the Government explore the possibilities of energy from waste and combined heat and power that would both provide energy and dispose of the waste currently sent to landfill or exported abroad?
This Government was elected and given a democratic mandate on localism, letting local people have their say on major issues affecting them. It should now do so.
Anne McIntosh is the former MP for Thirsk and Malton. Lady McIntosh of Pickering is due to speak in a House of Lords debate today on the Opportunities and Challenges for Agriculture, Fisheries and the Rural Economy.