MP WRITES: Fracking needs strictest safeguards

Fracking rigs like this one are a common site in America.
Fracking rigs like this one are a common site in America.

The issue I have received most correspondence about this year, by some considerable way, is the issue of fracking.

This is the process whereby shale gas is extracted through pumping water, sand and chemicals into the ground to release the gas deposited in the rocks.

People have written to me about fracking in the light of Parliament debating the Infrastructure Bill on Monday, which would give the green light to shale gas development.

In the main, people wrote to me to express opposition on three main grounds.

First, they don’t like the idea of companies undertaking operations such as shale gas extraction and fracking under their homes.

Secondly, they are concerned at the impact on the environment, both in terms of the possible damage to the water table underground and the harm extraction of shale gas may have.

People may have seen tremors close to Blackpool a couple of years ago, and frankly are frightened that any such seismic activity is caused by fracking.

Thirdly, people are not convinced that any community which is close to fracking activity will directly benefit – they believe that any monies or rewards will go elsewhere and would not benefit local people and generate local jobs and prosperity.

There is some debate about the benefits of shale gas for the UK.

It is estimated that there are trillions of cubic feet of gas trapped beneath the UK.

Whether it is technically possible that the gas can be extracted safely, economically and in an environmentally-friendly manner is another matter.

My understanding is that reserves of shale gas do not sit beneath Hartlepool.

There are possible areas in North Yorkshire and under the North Sea, and Teesside could possibly benefit from having the infrastructure to bring oil and gas to use, as the area currently does with North Sea oil and gas.

Hartlepool firms could also build that infrastructure, using local labour to do so.

What is very clear is that fracking cannot and should not go ahead without the strictest environmental safeguards possible.

Personally, I also feel that there has to be a reserve and skepticism regarding the actual benefits.

There is much discussion regarding the United State and the manner in which shale gas has revolutionised America’s energy bills.

The UK is not the US and it would be more expensive and therefore more questionable as to whether the economics stack up.

There was similar hype in Poland about shale gas, but after drilling almost 100 wells, at great cost, it was discovered that the resource was not economic to extract.

I cannot help but feel that pinning all hopes of energy security on shale gas would be wrong.

On Monday, the Labour Party Opposition tabled amendments to ensure that loopholes in the environmental regulation are closed down and the strictest safeguards are put in place to ensure safety and environmental concerns are paramount.

A number of conditions were put in place in our amendments, such as independent inspections of the integrity of wells, presumption against development in certain areas, wider consultation with the public, particularly in areas directly affected by fracking and for companies to ensure – in law – that they provide community benefit schemes.

I’m pleased that the Government felt that they would lose the vote on this and so had to accept the amendment in full, ensuring that there are much tougher tests to stop fracking from taking place. I’m also grateful to the number of people who wrote in to me to express their concerns and to play a part in the Parliamentary scrutiny process.