Growing pressure for moratorium on UK shale gas 'fracking'

| 27th January 2011
Shadow energy minister Huw Irranca-Davies calls for a halt to shale gas drilling after an Ecologist investigation and Tyndall Centre report highlight environmental risks of hydraulic fracturing

Huw Irranca-Davies has written to the Energy Minister Charles Hendry and Secretary of State Chris Huhne outlining concerns over the environmental impacts of the drilling process involved and urging the government to put in place a temporary moratorium.

The extraction of shale gas using a technique called hydraulic fracturing - often referred to as 'fracking' - has proved controversial in the US where the process has been linked to a host of negative environmental and social impacts, including contamination of drinking water.

Fracking involves pumping millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals underground to break apart rock formations and release natural gas supplies.

The shadow energy minister's move puts fresh pressure on the Government to address the growing controversy surrounding 'fracking'. Last year The Ecologist investigated the environmental and social impacts of gas extraction in parts of the US - and revealed, for the first time, how energy companies are increasingly targeting gas shale reserves across Europe, including in the UK, Poland and Germany.     

In the US, where thousands of new 'frack' drilling sites are expected to be established in the coming decades, opposition is growing and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has launched an investigation of the risks involved. In the UK, which geologists believe has large reserves of exploitable gas, a number of companies are pressing ahead with plans to undertake drilling.

Cuadrilla Resources is at the most advanced stage - the company is already undertaking exploratory drilling on a site in Weeton, Lancashire - and is simultaneously due to begin drilling at other sites in the Netherlands and Hungary.

Irranca-Davies this week said: 'The Government must assure itself and the wider public that fracking and the associated processes used for extraction of gas from shale or coal-bed-methane are safe for use in the UK. This form of energy production is new to the UK, and may well have potential for our future energy security and affordability. But Ministers cannot turn a blind eye and sacrifice our natural environment, or compromise on our climate change targets. Ministers are in danger of being caught napping by a surge of applications by companies eager to exploit this potential energy source.

'If we are to avoid the environmental problems caused by some operators in other countries, the government must assure itself, the public, and industry that the right regulatory framework and environmental safeguards are in place,' he continued.

Earlier this month a report by the Tyndall Centre warned that the extraction plans underway in Lancashire could pose a serious risk of contaminating ground and surface waters. The House of Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee is currently conducting an inquiry into shale gas.

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