Elizabeth Anderson is a Conservative Future activist from south London.
For some, fracking (hydraulic fracturing) will revolutionise the energy scene in the UK. For others, it will ruin landscapes and environments for little benefit. But, particularly after the Queen’s Speech, it is back at the forefront of debate.
The new debate is about whether it is right to be able to frack underneath privately owned property without permission of the landowner. One major firm recently claimed in The Times that, without such permission, the industry would grind to a halt. Which rather asks the question, when one buys the freehold on a house, does one also buy the ground it sits on? We must presume that the purchase of land also includes the ground underneath, to some fair depth.
But then you may ask, really, would anyone care that much? After all, what’s another pipe running under a home? Except that most pipes and cables haven’t been linked to earth tremors. In Lancashire, the alleged link between the commencement of fracking and two “earthquakes” measuring 2.3 and 1.4 on the Richter Scale led to the suspension of fracking activity by Caudrilla, one of the leading fracking firms. A study that company commissioned themselves said that fracking was the “likely cause” of the tremors, due to ‘”unusual” geology on the site.
Lord Howell, the peer whose controversial suggestions on where fracking might take place put the topic firmly back in the news several times, also doubts the power of pay-offs against a backdrop of noise and fumes. In an article for the Journal of Energy Security last month he wrote:
“Spending time and money trying to bribe and cajole rural communities is a complete waste, as well as putting backs up and losing rural votes on a major scale. Villages and their environs where homes are worth a million will be unimpressed by £100k offers, and by assurances that ‘only’ two years of heavy truck traffic will disturb them. Those who have visited sites in America will also know that even after installation, the thump of compressors can be sensed up to two miles away, as well as the whiff of diesel from the compressor pump engines.”
This is no lefty environmentalist – this is the man who was Margaret Thatcher’s Secretary of State for Energy.
And it’s all for very little. Despite originally high estimates, a recent British Geology Survey reported in the Daily Mail found no shale gas in the Weald Basin, and only enough shale oil to last us less than one year. As Professor Stuart Haszeldine, from University of Edinburgh put it, “it’s a lot of bother for one year’s supply.” Lord Browne of Caudrilla stated in an LSE lecture at the end of last year that we don’t really know much shale gas is out there and practically recoverable (even with access under homes), and that it would be unlikely to have a material impact on fuel prices.
Fuel poverty is an important issue, and one that we must tackle, but stamping oil and gas wells over the British countryside is not going to achieve that – instead it will lose votes, and in my view waste valuable time and resources that could be directed to more productive and less controversial energy production methods that can provide energy on a sustainable long term basis.
Energy security and the energy mix is an important issue in the UK. As a former youth advisor to the Department of Energy and Climate Change, I am well aware of the difficult decisions that policy makers are going to have to make to keep the lights on in the UK, while ensuring that prices don’t spiral further out of control, and that we need a broad mix of options to be able to secure our own future. There is no one source of energy that is the great panacea – from coal to wind, there are difficulties with every energy form. But for many voters living in rural areas earmarked for exploration shale gas is not the answer. And for those across the country, it looks as though it can’t solve the rising cost of living.