A LEADING energy chief has given his backing to fracking.
Environment Agency chairman Lord Chris Smith has given a “big yes” to controversial shale gas drilling, but said there is a big “if” attached.
He wants it done safely and said it will be “rigorously monitored” by the agency if Cuadrilla Resources, which wants to drill across the Fylde coast, is given the go-ahead to resume.
Local campaigners believe safety can never be guaranteed.
Lord Smith said he would not stand in the way of fracking in the UK, as long as certain requirements were met, arguing “it could be part of the answer” to the UK’s energy demands.
“The source of a domestically available gas supply would, of course, be potentially very beneficial for our energy needs. It could provide energy security, which we don’t necessarily have when we import gas from abroad. It could be affordable,” he said.
The former Labour cabinet minister said shale gas has to be “drawn out of the ground effectively and safely”, which meant “worrying about the way in which drilling takes place”, whether the methane produced can be captured rather than released and ensuring no contaminated water gets into the groundwater.
But local campaigner John Bailie said: “It will be too late when we find out whether it is safe or not.
“It is the fundamental unpredictability of fracking which is the problem. Whatever regulatory systems and monitoring is put in place, the safety which Lord Smith advocates can never be guaranteed.”
Fracking – firing water and chemicals underground at high pressure to ‘fracture’ rock and release gas –remains suspended after two earthquakes hit the Poulton area last year, but the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has indicated it will give the green-light to the process if certain safety measures are implemented.
Philip Mitchell, chairman of the Blackpool and Fylde Green party, added: “There is growing concern among scientists in the US that fracking cannot be done safely.
“While Lord Smith may only suffer some embarrassment if he is proven wrong, the public stand to lose their health, their house values and their valuable countryside.”
Cuadrilla Resources hopes to frack at its site in Singleton in the coming months, and the firm – which also has sites in Weeton and Westby – has welcomed Lord Smith’s stance on the process.
A spokesman said: “We welcome Lord Smith’s recognition that natural gas from shale could be ‘part of the answer’ to our energy problems. We agree with him it could make a significant contribution to both greater energy security and lower gas prices for British citizens.
“We also agree it is important to ensure the extraction of gas is safe and effective, and are confident we meet the necessary high standards of safety.”