In January 2015, as C&I went to press, the cross-party Environmental Audit Committee published a report, Environmental risks of fracking, calling for a moratorium on the extraction of unconventional gas by fracking – on the grounds that it is incompatible with the UK’s climate change obligations and carbon targets, and to allow ‘the uncertainty surrounding environmental risks to be fully resolved’.
The report also calls for an outright ban on fracking in national parks and areas of outstanding beauty, and in sites of specific scientific interest and ancient woodland.
The report, based on written and oral evidence from a range of interested parties, including scientists, finds that shale gas cannot be regarded as a ‘bridging’ fuel.
Any large scale extraction of shale gas in the UK is likely to be at least 10–15 years away, according to the authors, and therefore cannot drive dirtier coals from the energy system because by that time it is likely that coal-fired power generation will have been phased out to meet EU emission directives.
It is unlikely, the report states, that fracking will be commercially viable unless developed on a significant scale, which goes against the trend of tightening carbon budgets.
Moreover, the report finds little evidence to suggest that fracking could be done on a scale in the UK that would make it commercially viable or indeed bring down gas prices significantly in the UK.
The environmental uncertainties highlighted in the report include hazards to groundwater quality and water supplies; from waste and air emissions; to public health and biodiversity; to the geographical integrity of areas involved; as well as noise and disruption to local areas.
The report concludes that the environment must be protected from potentially irreversible damage, and there is a need for a more coherent and joined up regulatory system that takes on board cumulative impacts of fracking before further activity is considered or any future expansion of the industry.
Environmental impact assessment, the report concludes, should be mandatory for all fracking activity.