Labour MP Natascha Engel’s Views on Fracking

With the Labour Party being anti-fracking  ( and by implication in favour of importing higher GHG emission fracked gas from the USA) , here are some wise comments on fracking from a Labour MP in Derbyshire.There is little to disagree with her apart from quibbles.

Congratulations to her and a pity that more aren’t as rigorous.

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Source: Natascha Engel’s Views on Fracking

 

Natascha Engel’s Views on Fracking

With the calling of the snap General Election, I wanted to try and set out in detail my position on fracking as a whole and the INEOS application for an exploratory well at Bramleymoor Farm in Marsh Lane in particular.

These are my own personal views which I have arrived at after a great deal of research. These views are not shared by the Labour Party nor local Labour councillors.

There has been a lot of pressure with the general election on June 8 for me to campaign to ban fracking. It would have been an easy campaign to justify and may well be a vote-winner. But those of you who know me also know that I stand by my principles and would never campaign for something I don’t believe in. I have always put my constituents’ well-being above all else and would never support anything that I thought was unsafe.

Since hearing of the possibility of fracking in North East Derbyshire, like many of you, I have immersed myself in the subject. I have read reports and talked to campaigners against fracking, the industry, experts, and academics on shale, geology and energy.

I have had several meetings with the Energy Minister who is responsible for shale to discuss my concerns and spent much of Easter travelling around North Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cheshire looking at the sites where fracking is due to take place as well as some of the existing oil and gas wells that are dotted around the country.

 MY CONCERNS

Lorry movements: My chief concern about the Bramleymoor Farm application is lorry movements. The route through Coal Aston will need to be looked at again both for residential parking, safety for people on pavements, traffic blackspots like at Snowdon Lane, HGVs managing the little roundabout towards the petrol station and garden centres. I am also worried about the number of lorries and the times of day they will be passing through.

Proximity to housing: I have also been talking to INEOS about how close the site is to the nearest residential houses and how noise and light pollution can best be reduced and kept to a minimum to make sure that those people who are worst affected are best compensated.

 PLANNING PROCESS

The government regards shale as an important potential industry and they are keen to see if there is enough of the right sort of shale in the UK to make it viable. If it comes off in the amounts that they hope, then this would lead to a huge tax take for them – in fact the government hopes that it will go some way to funding health and social care.

This means that the government has gone a long way to make sure that shale exploration will take place. They have done two things. They have made the planning framework for a shale application far more rigorous than any other conventional oil and gas application, but, once those planning requirements have been met, then if a council rejects an application it is called in by the Secretary of State who will almost certainly overturn the decision.

 DISRUPTION, SAFETY, HEALTH AND HOUSE PRICES

I know how upset and worried some people are about fracking especially about health, safety, house prices and security. From visiting sites, speaking to engineers and public health experts, I have not heard, seen or read anything that convinces me that shale exploration is any more or less safe than conventional oil and gas drilling.

Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is a technique that has been used since the late 1940s to extract conventional oil and gas. We have had thousands of onshore oil and gas wells drilled over the decades (some of which have been fracked) and currently have over 200 wells around the country pumping quietly away with little or no concern to local residents.

There will, without a doubt, be significant disruption during the building phase of a shale site during the clearing, rig building and initial fracking phases, and there will be more than usual heavy lorry movements carrying water and aggregate. This is the part of the development that I have most concerns about and is the subject that I am in close communication with INEOS on.

But the disruption caused by the building and drilling phase is the same as with any large build project, whether it’s industrial, a new school or a new supermarket – and in the case of a supermarket, the increased lorry movements will continue throughout the life-time of the supermarket and there will be no compensation paid to locally-affected residents.

 THE WATER TABLE AND OLD MINESHAFTS

The other real concern that people have raised is over the water table, drinking water and the potential risk to disused pits and mineshafts. Again, this is something that we have to keep a close eye on but the regulations covering fracking are extremely tight and the planning conditions have been strengthened over the years.

It means that 3D seismic testing has to take place to find fault-lines or disused mineshafts before anyone can frack, and baseline testing has to have been carried out a year before fracking happens so that any changes in the soil, water or air are immediately noticed and drilling is stopped. These conditions are far more rigorous than any conditions the construction industry has to meet.

From what I have seen, the independent engineers I have spoken to at the Royal Society for Civil Engineers and the British Geological Survey, the casing of a shale pipe through the water table has to be three steel tubes, each injected with a layer of cement. The chance of any contamination of the water table from shale extraction in this country is almost impossible.

 RELIABLE INFORMATION

One of the biggest problems about shale exploration that I came across was that no-one knows where to get trustworthy advice or facts about fracking – what it actually entails and what the risks are. There is a lot of information on the internet and much of it is either not relevant to the UK or just plain scaremongering.

There is the industry on the one side which people don’t trust because they have a vested financial interest in downplaying any risks, and on the other side are the green campaign groups for whom anti-fracking campaigns have seen an enormous boost in donations and membership. They have a different agenda which is to see the country de-industrialise.

 PROTECTING THE ENVIRONMENT

I totally agree with the green campaigners who make the case for more investment in renewables and winding down our reliance on fossil fuels. We should be doing far more to encourage wind, solar and water energy generation as well as putting more money into researching carbon capture and storage.

But spreading scare stories for which there is no reliable evidence about increases in cancer rates and low-birth-weight babies is unforgiveable. I have not seen credible evidence to support this and it should have no place in the debate about energy, climate change and shale.

While I agree that we should do all we can to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, I do not believe in de-industrialisation. Most people (including me) want to come home after work, switch on the lights, turn on the heating, run a hot bath and cook meals on their hobs.

Most people would rather pay less for utility bills and many people are also concerned for the environment and would rather have less pollution and lower greenhouse gas emissions.

But the fact is that at the moment only 7% of the energy we use comes from renewables such as wind and solar. The rest comes from gas and oil. A decreasing amount comes from our domestic wells in the North Sea, but increasingly we are importing shale gas from America and Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) from Qatar. As we become more reliant on imports, we can expect our energy bills to rise even higher.

And if our concern is reducing global greenhouse gas emissions then we ought to start calculating the real carbon footprint of importing oil and gas. We know working conditions are bordering on slavery in Qatar and health and safety regulations are almost non-existent with spillages, accidents and gas escaping into the atmosphere commonplace.

Once the gas is captured, it has to be frozen to liquefy it and put onto hugelypolluting diesel ships to transport to the UK where it is re-gassified and pumped into our domestic network. Each of those steps has a very large carbon footprint which would be avoided if we took shale out of the ground here.

From a green perspective, investment in renewables is essential. But gas will still have a role to play for the foreseeable future and we might as well make it as low-carbon as we can, controlling it better, and getting our domestic energy prices down. This will be especially important after Brexit.

 JOBS AND INDUSTRY

Energy is something which Derbyshire is expert in with its proud coal mining history and mineral richness. It seems that beneath our feet could be another large-scale manufacturing industry that is nowhere near as dangerous as sending people down deep mines. If the shale industry develops in the UK, it would use some of the most advanced civil and petro-chemical engineering technologies in the world and could create a whole new generation of jobs for our children and grandchildren.

In Danesmoor near Clay Cross, we already have the country’s best rig-building company being used by the industry all over the country. They are struggling at the moment with protesters chaining themselves to the factory gates. But if this industry comes off, we could see a massive expansion creating many more jobs in Danesmoor alone.

If, on the other hand, we allow the protesters to stop the company from supplying rigs, the opposite will happen. The jobs that exist in Danesmoor today will not be there tomorrow.

As a former trade union organiser, I am proud that the UK has the strictest Health and Safety regulations in the world. It means that the kind of gung-ho drilling and spillages that have happened in America are simply not allowed to happen here.

Our planning regime is extremely rigorous and our environmental laws so tight that the industry is constantly complaining about the hoops through which they have to jump. Quite right too. This, of course, does not mean that accidents can’t happen. It just means that the risk is minimal and the penalties great.

 MINIMISING RISKS

I appreciate that people ask why they have to put up with the disruption. We should look carefully at every application to make sure that drilling and fracking happens away from homes and in the remotest places with the least disruption possible. We should certainly not have wells covering every inch of our beautiful countryside.

Many people say that even a small risk is a risk too far. If this is how we lived our lives, we would have no development of any kind. It is about making sure any development is safe. We need an army of inspectors and environmental protection officers to keep a careful and constant eye on the industry to keep it safe.

I am not against fracking as long as the industry stays highly regulated and controlled. If taking shale out of the ground in the UK means that we have fewer greenhouse gas emissions, that we can control our own energy and get prices down because we are not importing it, if it creates a whole new industry with good jobs, if it is good for Derbyshire, then I support it.

Our next step has to be setting up a strong Community Liaison Group to negotiate with INEOS on lorry routes and times, on making sure that noise and light pollution are kept to a minimum and that individuals and the community are properly compensated.

Marsh Lane and Apperknowle need a bus service to Sheffield and Chesterfield. Let’s see if we can get a shale bus from the industry. And if fracking does actually happen, let’s ask for free energy for all homes within a certain radius. That would increase house prices and certainly reduce bills. Let’s see if INEOS can work with Eckington School (which has an engineering specialism), or pay for local people to train as lorry drivers.

If shale exploration is going to happen, let’s make sure that we get the most out of it.

I hope this will start a proper debate on shale exploration in which everyone can raise their issues and concerns. It has been very one-sided until now so I am looking forward to hearing your views on this and everything else!

All good wishes as always

NATASCHA ENGEL

Labour Party Parliamentary candidate

tel: 01246 439121 twitter: @nengel2017 email:natascha_engel@labour.org.uk

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