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Fracking

April 25, 2015 9:30 PM

Thank you for contacting me with respect for this important subject of fracking.

There are a number of environmental concerns around the process of Hydraulic fracturing (fracking), which you are obviously concerned about otherwise you would not have written to me.

My position on this issue is only slightly different to the current Lib Dem party one.

Lib Dem Party position on fracking

The party position is that shale gas is only as a bridge to a future of only renewable energy, as switching from a fossil fuel based economy to a renewable one takes time. However, shale gas can only be used if the exploration and production do not have an adverse impact on the environment and are consistent with our efforts to tackle climate change. If the right safeguards are in place fracking and shale gas can have a role in energy supply as part of the transition to a low carbon future, by helping us to cut out 'dirty coal' as we develop renewable energy.

The view is that shale gas is the 'greenest fossil fuel' - making only half the carbon footprint of electricity produced by coal. While we develop better renewable energy, shale gas provides a cleaner alternative to coal. And that most gas is consumed for household heating and industrial and commercial use, where fewer renewable solutions are available, only around a quarter is used for electricity generation. Gas is likely to be needed for domestic heating until the 2030s as there is currently no renewable heating source which can be provided at the necessary scale within that time period. Fracking will help reduce the UK's dependence on imports from the Middle East and elsewhere, increasing our energy security. Producing gas in the UK is more carbon efficient than importing it from thousands of miles away.

  • Lib Dems take environmental concerns about fracking very seriously. In government Liberal Democrats have ensured appropriate safeguards on water pollution, methane gas emissions, monitoring of seismic activity and protection of the local environment are in place.
  • In order to lead the fight against climate change we think shale gas can have a role as renewable energy develops as part of a "bridge" on our journey to zero carbon Britain.
  • Liberal Democrats in Government have made huge progress in bringing in more renewable power - doubling production in 4 years - moving to renewable energy remains our priority.
  • Thirteen necessary conditions will need to be met before fracking can take place, these include ensuring an Environmental Impact Assessment, independent inspections of wells, notification of local residents, and consultation with relevant water companies.
  • Traffic movements and noise pollution are considered in judging any planning application and seismic monitoring will be in place in order to assess seismic risks.
  • There will also be stringent regulation of the integrity of any wells drilled and of any fugitive methane emissions.
  • Fracking will be banned in National Parks, Site of Special Scientific Interest and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

My position on fracking

All the points above are good ones, particularly with regards to the Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty when considering the Island, but there are a couple of others that lead me to believe the best approach should be to go all out for renewable energy production. These are:-

  • The reason switch our entire energy base from fossil fuels to renewable sources is twofold, firstly the well-known arguments concerning climate change and the secondly fossil fuels are a limited source that are running out.
  • The other limited resource is finance to develop energy systems and sources. If finance is diverted from the goal of switching to renewables to the short term goal of shale gas development the switch to renewables will be delayed and more expensive as a result.
  • Shale gas extraction is an expensive process, literally squeezing out the last puff of gas earth contains and therefore only becomes viable with a high gas price. Ironically the temporary lower price of oil and gas is due excess supply generated by shale gas extraction in the US. The result is a fall in the current price of oil and gas to the point that shale gas extraction is in many cases no longer economically viable. The biggest own goal in industrial development for a long time.

All is this leads me to conclude the best approach is to development a robust renewable energy sector able to meet all our needs. This development requires a plan to dramatic increase the development of renewable energy, such a plan should include these elements:-

  • Improvements to the national grid to better enable the collection of electric power from off-shore power sources such as wind, wave and tidal.
  • The development of a national power storage system to save the power generated by renewable sources at period of low demand, such as pumping water back uphill in hydro-electric schemes and the generation of hydrogen to use in fuel cell power plants and cars.
  • Greater emphasis on developing tidal lagoons schemes in the Severn Estuary and other suitable sites around the UK coast.
  • The schemes to improve insulation in existing homes should include switching the heating source to a non-fossil fuel one, such as ground or air source heat pumps. These are widely used in places like Sweden and Germany.

General position on Climate Change

Liberal Democrats have been campaigning against climate change for longer than any other political party. It's in our DNA. Despite Conservative attempts to block our green policies, we have ensured this Government has been the greenest ever. Energy use is falling, helping to keep bills down. Investment in renewables has more than doubled, and as a nation we're using twice as much renewable electricity. Competition in the energy market has never been greater, with new independent suppliers offering cheaper prices and better service. Lib Dems have led the way internationally too. Lib Dem Secretary of State for Energy & Climate Change Ed Davey spearheaded the UK push to persuade the EU to set an ambitious target of reducing carbon emissions by at least 40% by 2030. And on the pla

In the next Parliament we will prioritise saving energy, with council tax discounts for insulating your home and energy efficiency help for low income families with high fuel costs. We will carry on greening our electricity, getting rid of coal generation by 2025 and setting an ambitious power sector "decarbonisation" target. We will grow the green economy of the future with smart investment. And we will do this while keeping energy bills down. And on these plans Ed Davey said:-

"The Lib Dems are the only party to have nailed their green credentials to the mast, and set out how this radical agenda will be delivered in a way that is both credible and affordable."

And having campaigned with Ed a few years ago and seen him discuss energy policy on one doorstep for over half hour on a freeze cold February evening I know it is a subject he is very passionate about. In the next parliament there are a number of environmental policies that the Liberal Democrats plan to introduce that I am keen to support these are:-

1. A Green Homes Bill- to require every home to be properly insulated by 2035, keeping bills down, cutting carbon, and keeping people cool in summer and warm in winter. Everyone who significantly upgrade the energy efficiency of their home will get at least £100 off their Council Tax for 10 years; we will make interest free loans available to fund insulation; and create a new "feed out tariff" to reward people who install solid wall insulation. Rented homes will have to be fully insulated (to Band C) by 2027. And everyone who is "fuel poor" will be eligible to have their home upgraded by this date. Other plans under the bill would include:-

  • Reforming the Green Deal 'pay as you save' scheme into a new 'Green Homes Loan Scheme' which would extend the current scheme to include renewable heat and electricity
  • A new 'Feed out Tariff' for investment in Solid Wall Insulation, the most expensive and disruptive type of energy efficiency measure

2. A Zero Carbon Britain Bill - to green our electricity. This will set an ambitious 2030 target to reduce carbon emissions from the power sector to between 50-100g CO2 per kwh, and getting rid of coal power generation by 2025. Continuing the shift to cleaner energy, supported by the Green Investment Bank, will support 250,000 low carbon jobs by 2020. The aim of the bill is to Britain's adverse impact on climate change for good by 2050 by making Britain a zero carbon country. The Zero Carbon Bill will also include:

  • A new legally binding target for Zero Carbon Britain by 2050
  • A new legally binding decarbonisation target for the power sector by 2030 to support investment in all forms of low carbon electricity
  • Establishing an Office for Accelerated Low Carbon Innovation to fast-track new green tech including tidal power, renewable heat, ultra-low emission vehicles, energy storage and CCS
  • Applying Emissions Performance Standards (EPS) to existing coal plants from 2025 to end use of unabated coal generation
  • Full borrowing powers to the Green Investment Bank, to further boost investment in low carbon technology

3. A Zero Waste Bill - Treble fines and claw back £500 million for the taxpayer by clamping down on organisations which fly-tip to deliberately evade tax and review the tax structure across landfill, incineration and collection. Other plans under the bill would include:-

  • A "Responsibility Deal" between government and business to ensure packaging for consumer products are designed for recycling rather than designed for dumping
  • Commission a Stern type review to undertake a UK-wide review on how Britain's waste can be used as a resource to generate revenue for the economy and the possibility of legally binding targets on waste

4. A Green Transport Bill - Transport has a significant role to play in reducing carbon emissions. In the UK, transport is responsible for around 25% of our carbon emissions and is the fastest growing source of carbon emissions. We will bring forward a comprehensive package of transport policies to continue to build a people-centred, sustainable, safe travel system that helps the economy grow. The Green Transport Bill would also include:-

  • Fast track support for the growing electric vehicle market, starting with implementing a full network of charging points for electric cars, and a target of 2040
  • Make progress towards implementing the recommendations of the 'Get Britain Cycling' report
  • We will update planning law to ensure new infrastructure developments are designed around walking, cycling and public transport
  • Oppose any increase to the national speed limit
  • We will undertake a review of road transport taxation
  • Where 20mph isn't achieving the saving of children's lives, give local authorities the power to reduce the speed limit outside schools to 10mph

5. A Nature Bill - Establish the Natural Capital Committee on a statutory footing to provide advice to Government to ensure that nature is at the heart of government decision-making and that government departments are held to account for achieving progress against commitments to improving the natural environment. The Nature Bill would also include:-

  • Bring forward a package to protect bees and pollinators and help them recover
  • Design and adopt a National Food Strategy and encourage local councils to adopt a food plan in order to foster the growth of local food economies, from field to fork

And to help keep down bills the energy market competition will be increased, by enabling you to switch supplier to save money in just 24 hours, and we will take on the big six, setting a target for 30% of the energy market to be supplied by independent companies instead.

And finally for your thoughts some facts:

  1. Energy prices have been rising less under this government (7% per year) compared to the last government (11% per year).

  2. Investment in low carbon and electricity generation from renewables has been more than twice as high under this Government than the last Labour Government.

  3. Household energy use is falling at 2.5% each year showing the success of our energy efficiency policies.

  4. Britain led the EU in getting an EU target of reducing carbon emissions by at least 40% by 2030. The Danish Energy and Climate Minister said "Ed Davey is taking a leadership role on setting ambitious targets and it is very much to his credit that we've made so much progress".

  5. Current mix of power generation: 15% renewables, 40% coal, 20% nuclear, 25% gas.

  6. Only 25% of gas is used for electricity, 75% for heating (industrial and domestic).

  7. The average household energy bill is approximately £1,300 per year.

Hope this answer not only shows why I signed up to the no fracking campaigning for the Isle of Wight, but also that renewable energy generation is an area that I am very interested in and I have been since my first paper on the subject back in the early 1980s, as part of my studies at the Isle of Wight College.