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Safety is an 'afterthought' for Tory fracking ambitions

Safety is an 'afterthought' for Tory fracking ambitions
3 min read

Caroline Flint MP rails against the 'Government u-turn' on fracking regulations, saying the UK should not go ahead with shale gas extraction until it can do so at the lowest possible risk to environment and public health.

Earlier this year the Government backed down in the face of what would have been an extraordinary defeat in the Commons and said they’d introduce all the environmental safeguards that we wanted to see in place before shale gas extraction could go ahead. At the time it seemed like an important victory for common sense that would ensure the regulations were there so any extraction didn’t lead to the kind of environmental damage seen in parts of America, and that if shale was to contribute to the gas that heats 80% of our homes then it would happen in the safest possible way.

Unfortunately, within the space of days the Government u-turned, watering down many of the conditions that had been successfully argued for in the House of Commons. The amendments they introduced to the House of Lords left out some of the key parts of the Labour amendment in the Commons, and we were unable to put them back in during the final stages of the Bill’s passage through Parliament.

Today the Government confirmed that they have backtracked on two of the most important areas when they introduced secondary legislation required by the Infrastructure Bill. The first is on Groundwater Source Protection Zones. Many people are concerned that shale gas extraction could lead to contamination. As a result we argued that extraction should not take place beneath areas that provide the groundwater that we rely on for a third of our drinking water.

We had also argued that National Parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty, places that people hold especially dear, should be given additional protection. That meant not just excluding fracking from within them, but preventing fracking from taking place underneath them as well. That way we could ensure that they didn’t become ringed by rigs. Again, that appeared both proportionate and reasonable and the Government appeared to accept that. However, on this they have again rowed back on commitments made during the Infrastructure Bill and we will be holding them to account for that.

At the heart of the Government’s problems lie the fact that their rhetoric of ‘going all out for shale’ has not given the country the reassurance it seeks that if shale gas is to be extracted it is to be done safely. For this Government, the safety element appears to be an afterthought. That may be why public attitudes show a toughening stance towards extraction. The Government’s own desperate dash for shale is making it harder for what they want to go ahead – an irony they don’t appear to appreciate.

We believe that shale gas extraction shouldn’t go ahead until the Government fulfil all the criteria that we’ve laid out. That means taking away this secondary legislation and coming back with legislation that protects groundwater source areas and National Parks. It means ensuring Environmental Impact Assessments at all sites, monitoring of all fugitive emissions, not just methane, and individual notification of all residents. If shale gas extraction is to take place, and play a role in reducing our imports of gas, it has to be within our climate change commitments and at the lowest possible risk to environmental and public health. The Government still doesn’t recognise this, and until they do, shale gas extraction shouldn’t go ahead.

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