A Labour party candidate is backing onshore shale gas exploration in her prospective constituency.
The position of Natasha Engel, the would-be Labour MP for North East Derbyshire – a seat she first won in 2005 – is in total opposition to the position of the Labour party in Scotland – which wants a permanent ban on onshore shale gas.
Berlin-born Engel said: “From what I have seen, the independent engineers I have spoken to at the Royal Society for Civil Engineers and the British Geological Survey, the casing of a shale pipe through the water table has to be three steel tubes, each injected with a layer of cement.
“The chance of any contamination of the water table from shale extraction in this country is almost impossible.
“There is the industry on the one side which people don’t trust because they have a vested financial interest in downplaying any risks, and on the other side are the green campaign groups for whom anti-fracking campaigns have seen an enormous boost in donations and membership. They have a different agenda which is to see the country de-industrialise.
“I totally agree with the green campaigners who make the case for more investment in renewables and winding down our reliance on fossil fuels. We should be doing far more to encourage wind, solar and water energy generation as well as putting more money into researching carbon capture and storage.
“But spreading scare stories for which there is no reliable evidence about increases in cancer rates and low-birth-weight babies is unforgiveable. I have not seen credible evidence to support this and it should have no place in the debate about energy, climate change and shale.
“While I agree that we should do all we can to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, I do not believe in de-industrialisation. Most people (including me) want to come home after work, switch on the lights, turn on the heating, run a hot bath and cook meals on their hobs.
“Most people would rather pay less for utility bills and many people are also concerned for the environment and would rather have less pollution and lower greenhouse gas emissions.
“But the fact is that at the moment only 7% of the energy we use comes from renewables such as wind and solar. The rest comes from gas and oil.
“A decreasing amount comes from our domestic wells in the North Sea, but increasingly we are importing shale gas from America and Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) from Qatar.
“As we become more reliant on imports, we can expect our energy bills to rise even higher.
“As a former trade union organiser, I am proud that the UK has the strictest Health and Safety regulations in the world. It means that the kind of gung-ho drilling and spillages that have happened in America are simply not allowed to happen here.
“Our planning regime is extremely rigorous and our environmental laws so tight that the industry is constantly complaining about the hoops through which they have to jump. Quite right too. This, of course, does not mean that accidents can’t happen. It just means that the risk is minimal and the penalties great
“I am not against fracking as long as the industry stays highly regulated and controlled. If taking shale out of the ground in the UK means that we have fewer greenhouse gas emissions, that we can control our own energy and get prices down because we are not importing it, if it creates a whole new industry with good jobs, if it is good for Derbyshire, then I support it.
“Our next step has to be setting up a strong Community Liaison Group to negotiate with INEOS on lorry routes and times, on making sure that noise and light pollution are kept to a minimum and that individuals and the community are properly compensated.
“I hope this will start a proper debate on shale exploration in which everyone can raise their issues and concerns. It has been very one-sided until now.”
Scottish onshore oil and gas industry could create 3,000 new jobs and £4 billion in tax receipts – if Sturgeon lifts fracking ban
The GMB, the trade union for energy workers, has endorsed Engel’s position.
Stuart Fegan, GMB National Officer for the Gas Industry, said: “Natasha Engel’s call for a fact-based review of the pros and cons of fracking, rather than short-sighted promises of an outright ban, is exactly what is needed as the UK decides where it will get its energy from in the post-Brexit world.
“If the hysteria, hype and – on occasions – downright lies that surround hydraulic shale gas extraction are parked in favour of honest debate, the UK public could come to an informed conclusion about our energy mix.
“Renewables will continue to be a key and growing part of the energy mix that powers our economy and homes but in the transition towards greater ‘green’ reliance, which of course is predicated on a technological breakthrough that is yet to come, wishful thinking alone won’t keep the lights on during days when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow.
“Gas heats 85% of British homes and is three times cheaper than electricity, making it key in combatting fuel poverty.
“Those who peddle blinkered views about energy supply and hypocritically ignore the facts should not be allowed to throttle common sense debate.
“Britain is already importing shale gas from the US in diesel polluting ships, whilst a growing part of the gas we use – the majority of which is already imported and set to rise quickly – comes from regimes with appalling human rights records.
“It is not a question of if we will use gas as an intermediate energy source, the real question is where it will come from.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government has taken a cautious, evidence-led approach to unconventional oil and gas.
“We have published key research reports on the potential impacts of unconventional oil and gas and a full public consultation on unconventional oil and gas, including fracking and coal bed methane, is now well underway.
“Given the importance of hearing the views of those communities in areas that have been suggested for UOG extraction by UK Ministers, such as the densely populated Central Belt, and to give time for stakeholders to consider and feedback on the evidence we have commissioned, no decision on the future of unconventional oil and gas will be made before the public have had an opportunity to feed in their views to the consultation, and these have been independently analysed.
“The <Scottish Energy> Minister has made very clear that the Scottish Government will thereafter put its recommendation to the Scottish Parliament and will respect the will of the Parliament on the matter.”