THE idea that fracking could be the UK’s energy ‘silver bullet’ after Brexit is both misguided and dangerous.
For a start a mountain of peer-reviewed scientific evidence now exists that proves the unconventional oil and gas process is a threat to our health and our environment.
Of 685 scientific papers published between 2009-15, some 84 per cent contained findings which pointed to public health hazards, elevated risks or adverse health outcomes.
Put in plain English – fracking is harmful.
This form of energy extraction also creates a negative impact on other social-economic issues such as plummeting house prices, increasing insurance premiums and long term damage to pre-existing industries such as tourism and farming.
These impacts were confirmed by Defra when the Government department was eventually forced to publish a previously redacted shale gas impact report in 2015.
The controversial report suggested property prices could fall by up to seven per cent, insurance costs could increase and tourism and other existing sectors may lose business due to increased congestion, noise and new perceptions about the region.
Fracking has also been touted by the Government and industry as an opportunity to secure our energy supply post-Brexit, another assumption which doesn’t stand up under scrutiny.
INEOS, the UK’s largest and most ambitious fracking firm, intends to use shale gas to help it manufacture more plastic (currently choking our oceans), and therefore any gas would not necessarily contribute to our domestic energy needs.
Furthermore with huge public opposition, a lack of available drilling equipment and little suitable infrastructure, this industry doesn’t have the capability or support to scale up and make any meaningful dent into our energy demands in the timeframe permitted.
Fracking is also touted as a bridging fuel towards a low carbon future, but again this is another myth. If we are to comply with our climate change targets, we must leave the majority of known fossil fuel reserves in the ground now and not delay our efforts on a major transition to renewable energy generation.
Supporting an energy policy that keeps the country hooked on more fossil fuels post-Brexit, and at the expense of renewable energy investment, is akin to re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
We can no longer kick the can down the road – climate change is a real threat. Simply take a look at the record heatwaves, the incredible fires sweeping the country and the hosepipe bans being imposed.
Do we need any more warnings that tackling this problem without further procrastination should be a priority for this Government?
Positive action on climate change and investment in renewable energy, instead of fracking, is widely supported by the British public. The Government’s own opinion survey show support for renewables at 85 per cent (a record high) whilst fracking only picks up 18 per cent support from the British public.
Another risk linked to the unconventional hydrocarbon industry is earthquakes. In 2011, Cuadrilla caused numerous tremors when they fracked the Presse Hall well in Lancashire. This led to a temporary moratorium on fracking.
If we look at the USA as a case study, Oklahoma has experienced a boom in fracking operation between 2010-2018 and an unintended consequence of this development is an explosion in earthquake frequency and severity. In 2010, the state experienced 41 earthquakes. By 2015, this had increased to over 900.
The pro-frackers will tell you that the US experience of earthquakes, water contamination and pollution won’t happen here because we have a ‘gold standard’ regulatory regime, but this is yet another myth that doesn’t stand up when investigated further.
In the past three years UK fracking firm Cuadrilla, given the green light this week to frack at the Preston New Road site in Lancashire subject to certain conditions being met, and Third Energy have breached key environmental permits on 12 occasions. Neither have been fined or had their permit revoked – both have escaped with a slap on the wrist from the Environment Agency.
Many Brexiteers and lobbyists have also been vocal about de-regulation and cutting ‘red-tape’ which could led to a dangerous race to the bottom in order to secure trade deals.
Rather than buckling under the pressure being applied by the likes of Cuadrilla, INEOS and the pro-fracking Brexiteers like Boris Johnson, the Government should stand by it citizens and seriously reconsider its dangerous and dated policies on fracking and implement an immediate ban.
Russell Scott is a member of Frack Free Ryedale.