Labour demands tougher fracking controls

Drilling at the Balcombe fracking site in West Sussex earlier this year

Drilling at the Balcombe fracking site in West Sussex earlier this year

First published in News The Northern Echo: Photograph of the Author by , Assistant News Editor

LABOUR has demanded tougher regulations before ‘fracking’ is allowed to go ahead, to give people “confidence” that the technology is safe.

Amendments were tabled to a parliamentary Bill to strengthen protections against water contamination and damage to the environment, the Opposition said.

But Labour made clear it believed fracking for shale gas – earmarked for swathes of North Yorkshire – had a “role to play” in meeting the country’s needs.

Meanwhile, the Government insisted it was already introducing strict safeguards before any drilling goes ahead.

The Northern Echo revealed that a dozen licences for possible fracking have already been issued to gas companies in this region, mostly at sites in North Yorkshire.

Last month, companies were invited to bid for the rights to explore in as-yet-untouched parts of the country – although in national parks only “in exceptional circumstances”.

And a ‘Freedom to Frack’ Bill will change trespass laws to allow companies to unlock shale gas reserves under privately owned land, even if the owners object.

Ministers are impatient for rapid progress - confident that opposition to fracking will fall away when the first wells are up and running, which they hope to happen within a year.

But Labour said it was tabling amendments to the Infrastructure Bill in the House of Lords, to ensure:

* Disclosure of the chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing on a “well-by-well basis” – rather than once, by each company – to keep communities “fully informed”.

* Monitoring of methane in the groundwater before, during and after shale gas operations.

* Local water companies must be consulted in the planning process.

* Environmental Impact Assessments for all shale gas sites – not just those larger than one hectare.

Tom Greatrex, its energy spokesman, said: “Shale gas extraction must only be permitted to happen in the UK with robust regulation and comprehensive monitoring.

“Too often, David Cameron’s government have ignored genuine and legitimate environmental concerns in pursuit of a rhetoric-led policy.”

However, Mr Greatex added: “With eight out of ten homes still reliant on gas for heating, and with declining North Sea gas reserves, shale may have a role to play in displacing imported gas.”

Homeowners in the US have suffered contaminated water supplies from methane leaks from fracked wells, but this has been blamed on targeting shale close to aquifers.

A recent British Geological Survey (BGS) concluded the shale gas was typically 800m below groundwater in Lancashire and Yorkshire – reducing that risk dramatically.

The Environment Agency said: “We have strong regulatory controls in place to protect groundwater, and will not permit activity that threatens groundwater and drinking water supplies.”

Communities have been offered “compensation” of £100,000 per exploration well and one per cent of the profits - worth several million pounds, say ministers.

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