Liberal Democrat Conference FoE Fringe – ‘Fracking and the Second Dash for Gas’ – summary

Sat, 22 September 2012 | DeHavilland Report – Event
The Governments Energy Bill needs to back up renewables and should only leave a limited and clearly defined role for gas, Friends of the Earths Tony Bosworth said today.

At the event Fracking and the Second Dash for Gas, hosted by Friends of the Earth, Mr Bosworth was joined on the panel by local campaigners Tina Rothery from RAFF and Andy Chyba from The Vale says no, as well as by Howard Johns from Southern Solar and Councillor Sue McGuire of Sefton Metropolitan Borough Council.

Government Energy Policy

Opening the event, Mr Bosworth said the Government was facing two key decisions; whether to resume fracking in Lancashire, and what direction the Governments Energy Bill should take.

A dash for gas was not the solution, Mr Bosworth said, adding that there was still a limited role for gas in the energy landscape, which main purpose would be to back up renewables. This role needed to be clearly defined and limited, he added.

Mr Bosworth went on to outline the key reasons why shale gas was not the right solution for the UKs future energy strategy.

Firstly, it did not tackle the problem of climate change as gas was another fossil fuel. Secondly, there were considerable local and environmental risks attached to shale gas extraction, particularly with regards to ground water contamination, water resource depletion, air pollution and earthquake triggers.

Regulation was making industry safer, but not safe, he said.

Thirdly, the introduction of shale gas in the UK was unlikely to have an effect on energy bills, Mr Bosworth said, as rising gas prices lead to a rise in bills.

Later responding to a question from the Royal Society about independent research on fracking, Mr Bosworth said it was important to be aware of the vested interests in some scientific research. He added that there was clear evidence that fracking caused problems.

Residents response

The local residents of Lancashire felt unsafe after having sought information from representatives of the fracking industry, Tina Rothery from RAFF (Residents Action on Filed Fracking) told attendees.

The campaign had tried to engage with the energy company Cuadrilla to get more information about their work but was dissatisfied as they had been met by PR personnel rather than engineers.

She spoke about the shale gas industries interest in her local area in Lancashire and said what happened in her area would set precedence for the rest of the country.

Energy companies were able to avoid environmental impact assessments due to current lack of regulation, Ms Rothery warned.

The local campaigners in Wales had managed to force local authorities to set up a scrutiny committee into test drilling applications, said Green party activist and geographer/geologist Andy Chyba of The Vale says no campaign.

Campaigning against test drilling in parts of Wales had resulted in local interest and cross-party support, Mr Chyba said, adding that local authorities had unanimously opposed testing drilling for shale gas.

Despite that the local campaign in Wales was eventually lost and test drilling applications had been permitted, however, they had generated more attention and awareness about the issue, he said.

Community Energy Companies

Britain needed a community energy revolution, said Howard Johns of Southern Solar.

The expansion of renewable energy could be made through community-owned energy companies, he said.

The shift to renewables was particularly important as Britain had become increasingly dependent on gas imports, Mr Johns said, adding that there were both economic and geopolitical issues attached to the import of gas from countries like Qatar and Russia.

Using examples from Germany, Mr Johns said that solar energy output was increasing and was a technology that could be quickly deployed.

Renewables remained in their infancy in Britain and the Big Six would not contribute to improving the matter. This was where community-owned energy companies could make a difference, Mr Johns said.

Responding to a question from the floor, Mr Johns said that access to the grid was an issue for renewable energy companies due to the associated costs.

Fracking Regulation

It was important to have the right legislation in place in case a dash for gas went ahead, said Cllr Sue McGuire from Sefton Metropolitan Borough Council, near the Ribble Estuary.

Legislation needed to be in place to control the industry, said Ms McGuire, with specific focus on the chemical mix used in the water for fracking.

There was a lack of funding and knowledge within the Environment Agency, she said, adding that the agency had only become aware of problems with fracking after drilling had taken place.

Clearer regulation was necessary to ensure that environmental impact assessments became a requirement, regardless of the size of the drilling operation.

As part of legislation, it was important to ensure that all commercial interests involved in shale gas were held liable for any adverse consequences, Ms McGuire told attendees.

Mari Tunby, News Researcher

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