UK lawmakers make climate case for fracking ban

Cross-party committee of MPs argues government dash for shale gas is incompatible with emissions goals

A fracking rig in Louisiana (Pic: Flickr/Daniel Foster)

A fracking rig in Louisiana
(Pic: Flickr/Daniel Foster)

By Megan Darby

UK lawmakers are urging the government to ban fracking on climate change grounds.

In a report published on Monday, the Environmental Audit Committee argued exploiting shale gas was incompatible with commitments to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

This put them at odds with the chancellor, George Osborne, who the Guardian revealed is demanding ministers fast-track approvals for fracking.

Joan Walley MP, chair of the committee, said: “Ultimately fracking cannot be compatible with our long-term commitments to cut climate changing emissions unless full-scale carbon capture and storage technology is rolled out rapidly, which currently looks unlikely.

“There are also huge uncertainties around the impact that fracking could have on water supplies, air quality and public health.”

Infrastructure Bill

MPs will make the case for a moratorium this afternoon, in a debate on the government’s Infrastructure Bill.

Meanwhile, protesters will rally outside Parliament, where speakers including former UK climate envoy John Ashton, Bianca Jagger, Vivienne Westwood and several MPs will outline their opposition to fracking.

David Cameron, the prime minister, has promised to go “all out for shale”, which is seen as a significant economic opportunity.

Chancellor Osborne has led the charge, asking ministers in a leaked letter to make it a “personal priority” to smooth the path for the industry.

The Bill includes an objective of “maximising the economic recovery of UK petroleum”, including shale gas.

It also proposes changes to land access rights, making it easier for shale gas companies to explore underneath private property.

“Undemocratic”

Walley described the changes as “profoundly undemocratic”.

“The Government is trying to rush through changes to the trespass laws that would allow companies to frack under people’s homes without permission,” she said.

Former environment secretary Caroline Spelman has also come out against the government dash for gas.

Hydraulic fracturing or fracking, the practice of pumping high pressure water, sand and chemicals underground to release shale gas, has met fierce opposition in the UK.

Last week, planning officials recommended councillors reject an application by Cuadrilla to frack at two sites in Lancashire. The advice focused on “unacceptable” levels of noise and traffic around the sites.

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But this latest report by MPs represents the most systematic attempt yet to consider the climate change implications.

The UK is bound by law to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80% on 1990 levels by 2050, which means reducing reliance on fossil fuels.

Advocates of fracking have contended that in the medium term, shale gas can help reduce emissions by displacing coal in the power generation mix.

After taking evidence from several experts, the MPs rejected that argument.

The UK shale industry is not likely to produce significant volumes of gas for another 10-15 years, they found. By that time, coal will have largely been forced out by EU regulations.

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Richard Black, director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) praised the committee for “an excellent job of joining the dots” between shale gas and climate goals.

“The Committee is completely correct to say that if UK shale gas plays a major role in our electricity generation, that would have significant implications for our climate change targets.

“It could be useful in other applications, however – but before promoting the industry, ministers really ought to do some proper thinking about where shale gas can be used within carbon budgets, and where it cannot.”

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