Public meeting reveals Labour inertia on fracking

2nd February 2014
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Can Labour continue to fence sit on fracking?   I went to a lively debate on fracking organised by Labour branches in Mid Sussex last week. It was revealing because it showed that the Labour Party centre appears to be at odds with its grassroots and has yet to grasp that fracking is not compatible with addressing climate change.

On one side of the fence, Professor Alan Rew, a Labour Party candidate at the last county council elections, has been doing rather a lot of research in the past 4 years since finding out that Cuadrilla had permission to frack in a field just outside his quiet village, Balcombe. He set out why he thought that extracting gas and oil using hydraulic fracturing was too risky a process and expressed concerns about a government that is going “all out for shale”. His key message was that ““The oil and gas industry has got its claws into this government”

Yet disappointingly “Labour is not opposed to fracking in principle” said Anneliese Dodds, a Labour candidate MEP in the South East, although she highlighted their 6 conditions for shale gas exploration and production.

Nick Grealy, an energy consultant, put the case for fracking – arguing that its impacts are short lived and that gas is a clean fuel. He couldn’t understand why people would be against “a hole in the ground that money pours out of.”

I agree with Alan Rew, who said “shale gas means staying on the fossil fuel hook, as coal is not displaced but used elsewhere.” This reflects a report about the impact of shale gas which states:

“without global climate policies … new fossil fuel exploitation is likely to lead to an increase in cumulative greenhouse gas emissions and the risk of climate change.”   Department of Energy & Climate Change

Labour’s fence sitting is problematic. A firm policy on fracking sends a clear message to investors. If Labour were clear that widespread fracking is incompatible with cutting carbon emissions then investors would be more wary.

Our government insists that “robust” regulation means that unconventional fossil fuel extraction is low risk. But residents warned that regulators struggled to cope with problems they faced last summer at Balcombe. Friends of the Earth’s submission to a consultation on the health impacts of shale gas exploration highlights the reasons why we believe the regulatory system isn’t working.

I think it’s time for Labour to take a strong and clear stand on unconventional gas and oil. In my view that means ruling out fracking and prioritising action to get us off fossil fuels. This would be popular with the residents in Sussex and elsewhere who are crying out for a credible alternative to vote for on energy issues.

To find out more about why fracking isn’t the answer to our energy problems see our briefing.

Brenda Pollack (national Friends of the Earth)

28 January 2014

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