Shale gas supporters have set up an ‘agriculture panel’ designed to show Fylde coast farmers how to work with the industry should it get the go-ahead.
The North West Energy Task force, a pressure group made up of businesses and backed by the shale gas industry, has formed the new group, made up of four Lancashire farmers and GrowHow, a primary nitrogen fertiliser producer.
They will advise the Task Force on how the development of shale gas will impact UK food security and the agricultural sector.
But Fylde’s anti-fracking campaigners say most farmers are against fracking because of the potential threat through pollution of land, water and air and the impact on rural life.
The Task Force said that farming was an important part of the North West’s economy, supporting 30,000 jobs and contributing £700m annually to the local economy.
And it added natural gas was the key component of fertiliser costs.
Between 2003 and 2013 nitrogen fertiliser prices more than doubled. The development of Lancashire’s shale gas will allow producers to stabilise production costs, the task force claims.
A recent report by PWC suggested the confidence the shale gas revolution has given the petrochemical industry in the USA will result in $15bn of investment by 2017, as well as creating thousands of direct, indirect and induced jobs from the sector.
A spokesman for the NWETF said: “Fertiliser production is also vital to food security. A 2012 UN Report stated that nitrogen-based fertilisers were responsible for feeding ‘half the world’s population over the 20th Century and will be fundamental to ensure global food security over the 21st Century.’
“By stabilising the cost of fertiliser, shale would allow UK farmers to boost production and by extension reduce food costs for everyone. Shale gas has the potential to help the UK meet its food needs.”
Debbie Baker, a spokesman from GrowHow, which is advising the panel, said: “Natural gas is the primary ingredient within fertiliser. A new source of gas within the UK helps to diversify supply and potentially stabilise costs. It helps us to build a robust business case for investment within our UK-based business over the long term.”
The new panel will advise the NWETF and the wider community on the impact of natural gas on the whole agriculture industry including land availability, crop yield, water supply, land leasing, competitiveness issues and other economic implications.
It will also explore the impact upon local farmers who live and work near to exploration and extraction sites.
Energy firm Cuadrilla is awaiting a decision by Lancashire County Council over whether it can start fracking at two Fylde coast sites – at Roseacre and Little Plumpton.
However, anti-fracking groups on the Fylde have criticised the move.
A spokesman for the Preston New Road Action Group, a group of residents protesting against plans to frack at Little Plumpton, said: “It is inevitable that a few farmers and landowners will be seduced by promises of large payments if they lease their land for fracking, especially if they ignore their liabilities, financial and moral when the frackers have gone and left them to pick up the tab for any pollution.
“PNRAG counts a number of farmers amongst its active supporters, and anti-fracking farmers are in a majority in our experience. Farmers will be making the case against fracking when the Cuadrilla applications come to the County committee decision meetings next week.
“Nationally, both the National Farmers Union and the Country Land and Business Association have expressed concerns about fracking, not only its environmental but adverse financial consequences for their members.”
A spokesman for the Roseacre Awareness Group, which is against fracking there, said: “The NFU and the CLA have both urged caution and criticised the consideration of shale to the exclusion of members’ interests.
“The NFU tried, and failed, to secure under writing of future costs to landowners from the government or the industry. This begs the question ‘why not’ if risks are as remote as they claim?
“Economics is never the best driver of what is best. Surely, we know this based on banking, tobacco, alcohol and the food industries to name but a few.”
“Economics must be rooted in independent analyses of things just as precious – health, the environment, the land and its economy.”