Labour candidate Matt Pennycook supports his party’s pro-fracking position, and thinks we can frack our way to a low-carbon future. Here’s why he’s wrong.
Matt Pennycook’s election pamphlet recently dropped onto our doormats. He tells us that Labour will try and decarbonise our energy supply. Great! But wait a minute. The last we heard, Labour were going to start a whole new fracking industry. So which is it? Because you can’t have both.
Well, we got the answer to that in a long email from Mr Pennycook later, where he underlined his support for fracking – via a critique of fracking. (We’ve included the mail in its entirety below.) It’s true as he says, that fracking can poison water aquifers; ruin landscapes; generate toxic waste that needs to be stored somewhere; and fracking can hasten climate change by emissions of methane gas – which is an 84-fold more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Given this dubious roll call, why would you? And why would you when you can opt for renewables instead?
Pennycook goes on to say that Labour’s fracking will be clean and green and shiny and full of lovely regulations, so it will all be okay really. That’s just what we heard before from Nick Raynsford. And Pennycook states that gas is a “temporary bridging fuel ..until such time as we have developed a low-carbon economy that is less reliant on fossil fuels”.
Wait a minute – do you mean renewables? Because the technology already exists –haven’t you heard? In fact in the UK, renewables have just overtaken nuclear capacity in generating the UK’s electricity. And we’re not going to get to a low-carbon future if we don’t plan for it, are we – if we choose fossil fuels over renewables. Do you see? It’s actually quite simple. Choosing to frack for gas will delay the urgent switch we have to make to renewables. As we’ve said before, gas is not a bridge but a gangplank to climate chaos.
Pennycook also mentions carbon capture and storage as an essential part of fracking. This is a technology that isn’t going to be commercially available any time soon. Perhaps for 20 or more years. There are also big questions about whether it will be as effective as it claims anyway.
So there you have it: an energy policy based on science fiction rather than fact. And it’s no laughing matter. Because what Labour’s support for fracking shows is the corporate takeover of policy-making in the UK. Labour’s line is straight from the fossil-fuel industry that will do anything to delay its own demise, by any means it can.
On Earth Day recently, Matt Pennycook tweeted that according to leading scientists, 75% of fossil fuels need to stay in the ground if we’re to avoid devastating climate change. He really should tell Greenwich Council that. They have invested £17 million of our money in fossil fuels, which could become worthless if they are never going to come out of the ground. But aside from that, those fossil fuels include gas which shouldn’t, mustn’t be fracked.
Why isn’t Labour listening to the scientists? You can’t frack your way to a low-carbon future. Andrew Cooper, Green Party energy spokesperson says: “Labour say they want ‘tough controls on fracking’ . This really highlights the fact that they do not recognise that the gas needs to remain in the ground. Four fifths of known fossil fuel reserves need to remain in the ground if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change. That means no shale gas and no fracking. Labour just don’t get it!”
Matthew Pennycook’s pro-fracking position is especially disappointing for Greenwich, given that a growing number of election candidates have pledged to oppose fracking in defiance of their parties.
Pennycook’s and the Labour Party’s support for fracking is a dereliction of our collective duty to act. We have a narrow window in which to act, and act we must, if we are to avert the worst effects of climate change.
Vote Green to help us make the urgent transition to a low-carbon future now.
Matt Pennycook’s email to his prospective constituents:
Thank you for contacting me about fracking.
I care deeply about protecting our environment and I very much share your concerns about the implications of shale gas extraction. It's why I have found the experience of the last five years, in which the Coalition Government have been prepared to push ahead with fracking at any cost despite clear evidence that existing regulations for shale gas are not fit for purpose, so disconcerting.
Over the last five years the Coalition have displayed an almost fanatical faith in the potential benefits of shale gas. These have been misleadingly overhyped at every turn. Shale gas is no silver bullet. The geological, regulatory and market conditions of the UK mean that any gas produced will be far more expensive to extract than it has been in the United States and will be sold at the current European price. David McKay, the former Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor, has rubbished the argument for lower prices. Yet the Coalition pursued shale gas development at any cost.
Given the clear risks posed by hydrofracturing (depletion and/or pollution of water supplies; the mishandling of chemicals and waste at the surface; well-blow outs; exposure to naturally-occurring radioactive materials; the migration of gas, particularly methane, or other fumes into the air; contamination of water and/or food supplies; problems disposing of the groundwater brought to the surface in the course of drilling; and earthquakes caused by the injection of water into fault zones) and the track record of the industry to date we cannot even consider allowing shale gas extraction to go ahead unless there is a system of robust regulation and comprehensive inspection.
Over the last three years, Labour's Shadow Energy and Climate Change team has worked with organisations including the RSPB, Friends of the Earth and the Local Government Association, drawing on work by Royal Academy of Engineering and other bodies to produce a list of 13 necessary conditions to reform the regulatory regime for shale gas. The conditions include independent inspection of well integrity, mandatory monitoring for fugitive emissions and a presumption against development in protected areas such as National Parks. They represent a comprehensive approach, based on scientific evidence, to bring coherence to the UK’s regulatory framework. In January we forced the Government into a major U-turn on plans to fast-track UK fracking after they accepted our proposals to significantly tighten environmental regulations.
With a regulatory regime that is fit for purpose shale gas might yet have a positive impact both on global emissions and the UK’s security of supply. It could yet have a positive impact on global emissions by acting as a temporary "bridge fuel" that would help to reduce the world's dependence on coal (which is twice as damaging to the environment as natural gas) until such time as we have developed a low-carbon economy that is less reliant on fossil fuels. It could yet have a positive impact on the UK's energy security because with 8 out of 10 homes in the UK still reliant on gas for heating it is not a fuel that we can do away with overnight. In the context of declining North Sea reserves, a new, indigenous source of gas could help to reduce our dependence on imports. That's why the Committee on Climate Change concluded that the development of shale gas could actually lead to a slight decrease in UK emissions, since it is likely to be cleaner than the Liquefied Natural Gas we currently import from Qatar.
It is for the above reasons that I am not prepared to commit to an outright ban on all hydrofracturing. However, I will not even consider supporting shale gas development unless it meets the strictest environmental safeguards and does not come at the expense of meeting our legally binding obligation to avoid dangerous climate change.
I hope that clarifies my position on this important issue but if you have any further questions please do not hesitate to get in touch.