Fracking Yorkshire: A rock solid case?
North Yorkshire County Council has become the first authority to give the green light to fracking since the 2011 moratorium. But is it the right move for the area – or a disaster waiting to happen? Two local MPs – Labour's Rachael Maskell and Conservative Kevin Hollinrake – discuss
Forget the fracking frenzy – what we need is a proper sustainable energy policy, says Rachael Maskell
The decision of North Yorkshire County Council to allow fracking by Third Energy in Kirby Misperton, near Malton, clearly flies in the face of significant local concerns and lacks environmental safeguards.
Third Energy’s planning application was opposed by a great number of public bodies and businesses, including Ryedale District Council, Malton and Helmsley town councils and numerous parish councils, along with the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, and weighty concerns have been raised by important tourism industry businesses Flamingo Land and the Castle Howard Estate.
According to the chief planning officer’s report into Third Energy’s application to frack at their KM8 well site in Ryedale, the number of respondents who supported the application was 32, compared to 3,907 representations that opposed it; that is 99.2% who said ‘no’.
Furthermore, of the four villages that lie within one mile of the well site, there was not one single letter of support for Third Energy’s planning application. What is the point of public consultation, when well researched local residents and businesses are totally ignored?
The argument for fracking in terms of job creation doesn’t stack up either. According to Cuadrilla, the company making applications in Lancashire, each of its proposed six-year projects that were recently rejected by the local authority would only have created 11 jobs; my discussions with Ineos Upstream, bidding to frack in York, said the same.
Climate change is one of the most serious and complex challenges of the 21st century and we need concerted, immediate and sustained action to reduce carbon emissions and to avert the potentially serious environmental consequences we face if we fail to take action.
I dispute the idea that fracked gas can be an effective transition fuel that leads to a low-carbon economy. Earlier this year, the cross-party House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee concluded that, “any large scale extraction of shale gas in the UK is likely to be at least 10-15 years away”.
Commencement of a new fossil fuel industry doesn’t appear to make sense in this context: any gas ‘bridge’ to genuinely low-carbon energy will be very short-term, as significant production of gas from the fracking industry isn’t expected until the mid-2020s at the earliest, if at all.
In my constituency of York Central, the local authority has given a clear signal that it does not want to receive applications for fracking. I have deep concerns that contamination of drinking water is one of the biggest risks of fracking. There are many newly licensed areas for fracking directly over drinking water protection areas, and drilling through aquifers is allowed, which means that there are many people at risk of having their drinking water polluted; I am not convinced that the government is taking this issue seriously enough.
I believe the government must bring an urgent halt to their proposals around fracking and pursue a sustainable energy policy. Unless we lead the renewable revolution, energy prices will remain high and our planet will, day by day, be destroyed.
We have to talk more about renewable energy and an economy-wide energy conservation and efficiency programme. Rather than the frenzy for fracking, the UK could bring about 21st century solutions that addresses climate change, provide greater energy security, lower bills, develop high-skilled and secure jobs and ensure a long-term boost for our economy.
Rachael Maskell is Labour MP for York Central and shadow minister for defence
The environmental and economic arguments for fracking are compelling, says Kevin Hollinrake
When I was first elected to Parliament as the MP for Thirsk and Malton, I knew very little about shale gas.
I made it my business to find out as much as I could. I spoke to many different people, including the Environment Agency, the Health & Safety Executive, Public Health England, Yorkshire Water, the British Geological Survey, local authorities and, very importantly, the people living in my constituency whose lives it would directly effect.
I also went on a self-funded trip to Pennsylvania to find out how it was dealt with there. I have concluded that fracking, if conducted safely, can bring huge environmental and economic benefits to the country and to my constituency.
The environmental reasons for moving from coal to gas are compelling. Global CO2 emissions are declining, principally due to reduced coal usage in China and the US. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the US Environmental Protection Agency both credit the majority of the US reduction directly to the move from coal to shale.
The World Health Authority recently declared air quality a state of emergency in many countries. They estimated the financial cost to the EU alone to be a staggering £1 trillion, and the human cost even more dramatic. They estimate there were approximately 600,000 premature deaths in the European Region in 2010. I am pleased that the government is requiring all new combined-cycle power plants to be carbon capture and storage ready, which means that gas can provide a longer-term solution to our carbon-free economy.
Security in energy supply is another huge bonus. Despite growing turmoil in the Middle East, UK energy prices are falling in the markets, at the fuel stations and for our domestic energy. Traders can clearly see that the West is developing independent sources of energy. The British Geological Survey has estimated that 10% of the predicted UK reserves of shale gas would meet our gas energy needs for 40 years.
As with North Sea oil and gas, it could lead to a new industrial supply chain. Around 375,000 people benefitted from new employment as a result of the North Sea oil and gas Industry in 2014, with tax revenues of £2.1 billion. Reports by the Institute of Directors and Ernst & Young indicate that shale gas could provide 64,000 jobs and £33bn of domestic investment.
When I went to Pennsylvania to speak to local people, the US regulators, academics, protestors and operators about the impacts on the economy, community and the environment, I did not see significant and widespread industrialisation of rural areas. On the contrary, the effects on job creation and the economy were positive.
However, it’s important that businesses are held to account and properly regulated. I set up an All Party Parliamentary Group for Shale Gas Regulation and Planning, and have chaired several meetings already in which experts from various fields have given evidence and information on subjects including regulation and environmental impact. I want this to provide a forum to ensure that fracking is done safely and monitored at every step.
I believe we need to look at the whole picture. This is an opportunity we can’t afford to ignore. The economy is doing well and unemployment has come down under this government, but we would benefit from a clean, low cost, low carbon, home-grown energy source that will support domestic businesses, create local well-paid jobs and make our economy and nation strong for generations to come.
Kevin Hollinrake is Conservative MP for Thirsk and Malton and a member of the Communities & Local Government Committee