With only five months to the General Elections, in a move clearly designed to ingratiate Labour with the opponents of fracking, the opposition party called today for more stringent rules to govern shale exploration.
Labour’s Shadow Energy Minister Tom Greatrex has laid out proposed amendments to the government’s infrastructure bill, which contains such contentious clauses as the permission for the exploration companies to drill and run pipes under private land without the landowners’ permission.
Under Labour’s proposals, fracking would be prohibited on the land that collects the nation’s drinking water. Current government rules ban shale gas exploration close to water extraction sites, but not in the wider catchment. Friends of the Earth have pointed out that many of the groundwater protection zones cut through areas licensed for fracking.
The Labour party also wants the return to the rule – overthrown by the current government – that compelled fracking companies to notify residents individually of any shale exploration in their area.
Mr Greatrex accused the Coalition Goverment of repeatedly ignoring public concerns while willing to accept fracking “at any cost”, adding: “Shale gas extraction can only go ahead if we have a system of robust regulation and comprehensive inspection.”
Among proposals brought forward by Mr Greatrex were independent inspections of fracking wells, baseline monitoring of methane gas in groundwater, and making compensation for local people affected by shale exploration mandatory rather than voluntary.
Labour’s proposals were welcomed by environmentalists, with Donna Hume – climate and energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth – commenting: “Labour’s call for a ban on fracking near aquifers and for other safeguards is the right one – it is basic common-sense to not risk Britain’s drinking water.”
However, despite his concerns for safety of aquifers and civil liberties, Mr Greatrex still supports shale development in the UK, albeit with “robust environmental protections.”
“While eight out of 10 homes still rely on gas for heating, shale gas may have a role to play in displacing some of the gas we currently import and improving our energy security – it is not about increasing how much gas we use, but where we get it from,” he said.
This is not how the environmentalist see it, though. Donna Hume said: “While Labour’s set of proposals is a welcome break from the Government’s gung-ho pursuit of controversial fracking whatever the cost, the truth is that any fracking is highly risky for people’s health and the environment and has no place in any community.
“The sooner Britain follows the lead of France, Bulgaria and more recently New York State to ban fracking, the safer people will be and the quicker we can get back to the urgent challenge of stopping climate change.”
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