War of words breaks out over shale gas

26th January 2015

Related Topics

Related tags

  • Energy ,
  • Business & Industry ,
  • Noise ,
  • Renewable


Duncan Kerr

Battle lines have been drawn between opponents and supporters of shale gas development ahead of a key debate on the Infrastructure Bill in parliament this afternoon.

The bill includes provisions to enable the government to produce a strategy for “maximising the economic recovery of UK petroleum”, which includes oil and gas.

However, several members of the cross-party environmental audit committee, including its chair Joan Walley, Alan Whitehead, Caroline Lucas, Zach Goldsmith and former environment secretary Caroline Spelman, have tabled an amendment to the bill to place a moratorium on fracking activity. They argue that burning recovered fossil fuels would put achieving the UK’s carbon budgets at risk.

The moratorium is a key recommendation from the committee’s report on the environmental risks of fracking, published this morning. This states that large-scale extraction of shale gas will not be achieved for at least 10 years, and will therefore coincide with much tighter carbon budgets under the Climate Change Act, which will significantly curtail the scope for fossil fuel energy.

“As a consequence, only a very small fraction of the possible shale gas deposits will be burnable,” the MPs conclude.

The MPs also called for a clause in the bill to change the trespass law to allow energy companies automatic right of access to land below homes and businesses to be withdrawn, arguing that it would “seriously undermine citizens’ rights”.

The government’s proposal is aimed at easing current requirements for companies to reach agreement with each landowner to access energy sources located underneath their property.

A rally in support of the moratorium is being held in Westminster this afternoon, organised by environmental campaign groups including Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace.

Oil and gas industry body UKOOG published a detailed rebuttal of the committee’s report, saying it “fundamentally disagreed” with its call for a moratorium.

“Calling for a moratorium achieves only one thing – increasing the levels of gas coming from outside the UK at a substantially higher environmental cost and with significant economic consequences”, said Ken Cronin, chief executive at UKOOG.

The body’s statement points out that independent reviews by the Royal Society, the Royal Academy of Engineering, Public Health England, Water UK, and the Chartered Institute of Water and Environmental Management have all concluded that environmental and health risks from shale production are low if the industry is regulated effectively. The Committee on Climate Change said that UK shale gas production would reduce the country’s dependence on imports and help meet gas demand as part of a low-carbon transition.

The oil and gas industry and government have been working closely to overcome obstacles to shale gas development, according to a leaked letter to cabinet colleagues from chancellor George Osborne.

The letter, written in September last year, sets out plans to “respond to the ‘asks’ from Cuadrilla [a shale gas company] over which government has influence”. It also suggests providing extra technical support to Lancashire County Council to help determine planning applications, and, if permission is refused, it advises “Cuadrilla to respond to concerns and appeal asap”, while the Planning Inspectorate is told to “respond promptly to appeal or secretary of state recovery if appropriate”.

The letter also suggests providing extra resources to planners at Lancashire County Council, such as funding consultancy work and supporting secondments. The Health and Safety Executive and the Environment Agency should be given extra resource to enable them to “engage and communicate positively” to the planning process and as regulators, it states.

A cross-government and industry group should be established to assess the viability of finding a small number of sites in “less contentious locations” that have potential for production, the letter states.

Osborne wrote of the need for “rapid progress” on implementing the actions suggested. “I understand your officials have been heavily involved in the drafting of the recommendations, and in many cases are already driving them forwards. I would ask that you make it a personal priority to ensure that these are implemented within the agreed timescales below,” he wrote.

Friends of the Earth energy campaigner Tony Bosworth, who obtained the letter, said: “Such government collusion with a highly unpopular industry will just make fracking an even more politically toxic issue.”

A decision on two planning applications by Cuadrilla for shale gas exploration in Lancashire is due on Thursday. Planning officers recommended last week that both be refused on the grounds of noise and traffic. The company has since asked the council’s planning committee to postpone the decision while a consultation is held on further noise and traffic mitigation measures.

Cuadrilla claims that planners at Lancashire had never advised that its aim for a 42dB night-time noise limit would not be acceptable, and that 42dB is the limit that Lancashire and other county councils have previously set for drilling at night.


Subscribe to IEMA's newsletters to receive timely articles, expert opinions, event announcements, and much more, directly in your inbox.

Transform articles

Latest environmental legislation round-up

Regulatory gaps between the EU and UK are beginning to appear, warns Neil Howe in this edition’s environmental legislation round-up

4th April 2024

Read more

Dr Julie Riggs issues a call to arms to tackle a modern-day human tragedy

15th March 2024

Read more

The UK’s new biodiversity net gain (BNG) requirements could create 15,000 hectares of woodlands, heath, grasslands, and wetlands and absorb 650,000 tonnes of carbon each year.

13th March 2024

Read more

Campaign group Wild Justice has accused the UK government of trying to relax pollution rules for housebuilders “through the backdoor”.

14th February 2024

Read more

Digital tracking, packaging data delays and new collections provide a waste focus for this edition’s environmental round-up by legislation expert Neil Howe

28th November 2023

Read more

Environmental crimes could result in prison sentences of up to 10 years and company fines of 5% of turnover under a proposed EU law agreed by the European parliament and council.

21st November 2023

Read more

Stuart McLachlan and Dean Sanders discuss their book: The Adventure of Sustainable Performance: Beyond ESG Compliance to Leadership in the New Era.

14th November 2023

Read more

Media enquires

Looking for an expert to speak at an event or comment on an item in the news?

Find an expert

IEMA Cookie Notice

Clicking the ‘Accept all’ button means you are accepting analytics and third-party cookies. Our website uses necessary cookies which are required in order to make our website work. In addition to these, we use analytics and third-party cookies to optimise site functionality and give you the best possible experience. To control which cookies are set, click ‘Settings’. To learn more about cookies, how we use them on our website and how to change your cookie settings please view our cookie policy.

Manage cookie settings

Our use of cookies

You can learn more detailed information in our cookie policy.

Some cookies are essential, but non-essential cookies help us to improve the experience on our site by providing insights into how the site is being used. To maintain privacy management, this relies on cookie identifiers. Resetting or deleting your browser cookies will reset these preferences.

Essential cookies

These are cookies that are required for the operation of our website. They include, for example, cookies that enable you to log into secure areas of our website.

Analytics cookies

These cookies allow us to recognise and count the number of visitors to our website and to see how visitors move around our website when they are using it. This helps us to improve the way our website works.

Advertising cookies

These cookies allow us to tailor advertising to you based on your interests. If you do not accept these cookies, you will still see adverts, but these will be more generic.

Save and close