UK political consensus on fracking for gas disintegrates

Liberal Democrat leadership hopeful latest to call for fracking ban, while Labour favourite and SNP also support moratorium

(Pic: Liberal Democrats/Flickr)

Tim Farron (Pic: Liberal Democrats/Flickr)

By Ed King

The UK’s governing Conservative party looks set to go it alone on fracking after the likely leaders of opposition Labour and Liberal Democrats called for drilling for shale gas to be stopped.

Tim Farron, the favourite to win the Liberal leadership contest used a column in the Huffington Post to declare his party had “got it wrong” and should not have backed fracking at the election.

Farron cited warnings from doctors over the links between fracking and air pollution, birth defects and lung disease, and also said it would slow UK efforts to cut its greenhouse gas emissions.

“If we’re to meet the UK’s Climate Change Act objectives, we’ll need to decarbonise power generation almost entirely by 2030,” he said.

“If these targets mean anything, we shouldn’t be planning to use significant volumes of gas for power at all, regardless of its source.”

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Earlier this month Andy Burnham – widely tipped to win the contest to replace Ed Miliband as Labour leader – called for a moratorium on the process.

“These things just seem to be handed out like confetti. That made me really focus on the issue. In my area, we are riddled with mine shafts as a former mining area,” he told the Guardian.

“Where is the evidence that it is safe to come and frack a place like this? No fracking should go ahead until we have much clearer evidence on the environmental impact.”

The Scottish National party, which holds the third largest number of seats in the London Parliament, announced a moratorium on all fracking applications in January 2015.

Scottish energy minister Fergus Ewing said at the time he wanted to see a national debate on the technique, which involves injecting a mixture of water and chemicals into underground shale formations, which release gas after they are fractured.

In February the Welsh government said it too would impose a moratorium on fracking.

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This week Lancashire country council authorised extraction firm Cuadrilla to explore for gas in two sites on the coast, with a final decision expected next week.

The company had to abandon a previous attempt to explore in 2011, after drilling was linked to small earthquake tremors in Blackpool.

A separate plan to frack for oil in the West Sussex village of Balcombe was abandoned in 2013 after sustained protests from villagers and green groups.

In 2012 the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering reported fracking was safe if stringent operating procedures were followed.

Critics argue that together with health concerns, fracking leads to more CO2 emissions once the gas is burnt, and can also lead to the release of methane – a highly potent warming gas.

Asked today about the future of fracking in the UK chancellor George Osborne said it would generate more jobs and lower energy bills.

“I think that for this country to turn its back on one of these great natural resources which other countries are using would be to basically condemn our country to higher energy bills and not as many jobs,” he said.

“Frankly I don’t want to be part of a generation that says all the economic activity was happening somewhere else in the world and wasn’t happening in our country and wasn’t happening on our continent.”

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