Liberal Democrats support use of fracking and nuclear power
British energy secretary Ed Davey advises rejection of anti-fracking ‘zealots’
Urging delegates to the Liberal Democrats’ autumn conference to be “the voice of green reason” in the shale gas debate, British energy secretary Ed Davey yesterday told them to “reject the zealots who claim it’s a catastrophe”. Photograph: Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Fracking should be allowed to go ahead in England and Wales subject to tough planning controls, the Liberal Democrats have agreed, in a significant change of attitude towards shale gas drilling.
The Conservatives’ junior coalition partner has also narrowly backed the construction of new nuclear power plants, reversing decades of opposition by the party’s grassroots.
Urging Liberal Democrats to be “the voice of green reason” in the shale gas debate, British energy secretary Edward Davey told them to “reject the zealots who claim it’s a catastrophe”.
Equally, he said, they should “reject the vested interests” – supported by British chancellor George Osborne – “who argue that it answers all Britain’s energy problems”.
“They are both wrong. I’ve been cautious on shale, avoiding hyperbole, weighing up the evidence, insisting on firm regulation,” said Mr Davey, who has mellowed towards fracking in recent months.
Despite mounting objections from locals where drilling is planned or under way, Mr Davey said: “I don’t believe shale gas is the environmental threat some fear. Cleaner gas will be essential for keeping the lights on, as we replace dirty coal. Our [plan] for cutting carbon emissions assumes Britain will use a lot of gas in the future.”
During a debate in Glasgow, the Liberal Democrats agreed that shale gas drilling should be limited until it was shown that pollution, water use and methane gas emissions could be controlled.
Furthermore, local communities should be “fully consulted” and enjoy direct benefits from drilling, while half of all taxes raised should be used to cut CO2 emissions and reduce fuel poverty.
Prof Bill Winlow, a Liberal Democrat councillor in Fylde in Lancashire, where drilling has taken place, said regulations were needed to govern the industry. He said it was currently controlled by laws for sea-drilling, “where there are no cows, sheep or people”.
The change in party policy was sharply opposed. Peter Hirst from Congleton in Cheshire demanded a greater push to develop renewable fuels and cut energy use: “We already have enough fossil fuels. What is the point of looking for more fossil fuels when we can’t even use the ones that we have already got?”
Eight coal-fired power stations throughout Britain are due to close over the next few years under EU legislation forbidding the operation of the highly polluting plants.
Mr Davey said he had found it “increasingly difficult” to answer the arguments of those in favour of nuclear power that it cut CO2 emissions. “Climate change poses a real and massive danger to our planet. Not keeping a genuinely low source of electricity as an option is reckless.”
Fracking in Lancashire was stopped after it caused minor earthquakes, though permission has since been given for a resumption, subject to controls. The issue is politically delicate, especially for the Conservatives, as the largest known shale gas reserves are underneath Tory strongholds in southeast England. The Conservatives have been strong supporters of fracking.
In fracking, large volumes of water, sand and chemicals are used to blast open underground rock, releasing the gas held within over subsequent years.