Energy secretary Ed Davey today promised the people of the Fylde coast that fracking is safe. “The potential is exciting with jobs the economic benefits and energy security if we can get shale gas, but it has to be done safely for the community, homes and also of course for the environment.”
In an exclusive interview with The Gazette, Mr Davey told why he gave the go-ahead for shale gas extraction – while giving a categorical assurance that if fracking results in earth tremors then it will stop.
The minister said he wanted to reassure Fylde residents his department would closely monitor the entire process to protect them and the environment while exploring the economic benefits.
Shale gas company Cuadrilla Resources has four drilling sites in Lancashire – three on the Fylde at Westby, Singleton and Weeton, and one at Banks in west Lancashire. Fracking could resume at Westby and Banks in the new year.
The firm claims it could supply a quarter of the UK’s gas needs from the untapped resources trapped beneath the countryside.
But Mr Davey said the Government was taking a cautious approach to this new form of gas production as borne out when they suspended exploration in May 2011 after two tremors in the vicinity of Cuadrilla’s gas test wells on the Fylde.
He said: “I want to make sure the people are reassured the Government is taking all the necessary measures to make sure fracking is done safely.
“The potential is exciting with jobs the economic benefits and energy security if we can get shale gas, but it has to be done safely for the community, homes and also of course for the environment.
“We are sure we can manage the seismic activity. It has not been massive but it was felt and we acted to suspend exploration until we had done the proper investigations and read independent reports. Our conclusions are that we can frack safely but there needs to be stringent protections. The process will be heavily monitored before during and after fracking.”
The fracking process involves firing liquid and chemicals underground at high speed to break up shale rock and release gas trapped inside.
Anti-fracking campaigners have raised concerns surrounding the integrity of wells, water pollution and seismic activity which they claim has affected housing.
Since the announcement, which was reported in a special late edition of The Gazette yesterday, campaigners have expressed their disappointment at the decision and have vowed to fight on, both through the courts and through protests.
Mr Davey said a study of the rock formations would now be carried out to make sure the shale rock was stable enough to avoid significant tremors and a traffic light style warning system would be in place.
He added: “If there is any significant seismic activity, and we have had some criticism from some parts of the industry that we were being too stringent, if the activity is above 0.5, which is too small to be felt above ground, then fracking has to stop immediately until further investigations have been carried out.”
Mr Davey said the shale was of a different composition to that currently being fracked in North America and so they did not know how much of the gas would be economically recoverable.
But he said if it did go ahead there would be jobs and growth for the immediate area. On the environment, he added: “We have to consider climate change in everything we do and already in industry there are strict rules for measuring and dealing with methane emissions, however, because this is a new industry we are commissioning a study into shale gas and greenhouse gas emissions.”
Mr Davey said the UK would be burning gas for quite a few years to come before low carbon technology and renewable energy could take more of the burden.
Leon Jennings, health and safety and environment director at Cuadrilla Resorces, said the company was delighted to get the Government’s go-ahead for exploratory fracking but would be open and honest as the project progressed.