In a report that was met with criticism from Green activists, The House of Lords has called today for a simplified and clear regulatory regime to encourage the development of shale.
The Economic Affairs Committee – one of the five permanent investigative committees in the House of Lords charged with considering economic affairs – has fully supported the Government’s commitment to ‘go all out for shale’ and expressed concern that complex regulation might delay progress in shale gas exploration.
The Committee said that the UK is “extremely fortunate” to hold substantial oil and gas reserves and listed the many benefits of developing Britain’s shale gas sector. These include:
- Fostering energy independence and lowering energy imports, especially in the face of the continuing fall in output from the North Sea and Europe’s reliance on Russia.
- Creating new jobs, particularly in the North West of England – a region hard hit by the recent recession.
- Retention and growth of UK’s petrochemical industry, heavily reliant on low-priced feedstocks.
- Growth in tax revenue in years to come.
- Positive contribution to UK meeting it’s climate change commitments.
The Committee acknowledged that environmental concerns associated with fracking are legitimate, yet decided that the concerns can be addressed by appropriate legislation. It believes that “the UK regulatory framework is well regarded internationally” but suggested some improvements such as employing independent inspectors, rather than ones hired by the drilling companies. It also dismissed concerns about water supplies, quoting experts from Durham University who reported no evidence of contamination from more than one million operations in the US
The Committee welcomed the Government’s initiative to simplify the regulations governing shale gas development – such as allowing the drilling companies to run pipes under private land without landowners consent – but expressed a belief that these changes have not gone far enough, pointing out that since the moratorium on fracking was lifted in 2012, not a single permit application to undertake hydraulic fracturing has been approved by the Environment Agency.
The report further stated that “The Government must do more to simplify regulation to ensure that exploratory drilling and development can go ahead. Regulation around shale should be robust, but should move quickly and be easy to understand.”
The report’s findings were met with criticism from Green campaigners who accused the peers of “cherry-picking the wafer-thin evidence” to support foregone conclusions.
Friends of the Earth’s spokesman Tony Bosworth said that so far, shale gas exploration in the UK has been “a catalogue of errors and oversights, and regulators struggling to deal with the demands of an industry that has pound signs in its eyes”, adding that “streamlining accompanied by political pressure to get things moving fast doesn’t bode well for proper regulation.”
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