A guest blog by Tony Bosworth, Climate and Energy Campaigner, Friends of the Earth England, Wales & Northern Ireland

It wasn’t the best start to a Sunday morning – a text suggesting I have a look at a story in the Mail on Sunday attacking Friends of the Earth’s work on fracking. But after initial irritation at the misleading and inaccurate article, my feeling was ‘when they start attacking you, you know you’re making waves’.

And this journalist has a track-record of being very selective in his use of evidence – this is no exception. Most of what he states as facts are opinions or misconceptions. Let’s deal with a few.

He says shale gas will be cheap. That’s an opinion, and not one shared by many experts. Former Tory Energy Minister Charles Hendry has written that “betting the farm on shale gas brings serious risks of future price rises”. Bloomberg New Energy Finance, a leading energy investment analyst, recently concluded that going for shale gas in the UK on the basis that it will cut energy bills was ‘wishful thinking’.

He describes some of our claims as ‘extremely contentious’. These include our concern that earthquakes triggered by fracking may cause wells to leak, contaminating groundwater. That’s a concern shared by Tony Grayling, Head of Environmental Policy at the Environment Agency. He has said of the Lancashire earthquakes “we need to understand what is the maximum damage that might be done in such circumstances to a well and the integrity of the casing, whether it would increase the risk of a leak. If there is ground water in the vicinity, that could be a problem”

Similarly, he says that we are “insisting that the water used to widen fissures in the shale must legally be monitored, even though most of it will stay a mile below ground”. Again it’s not just us. According to a recent news report, the Environment Agency has concluded that water that stays underground must be monitored and traced.

Of course, the Mail on Sunday story barely mentions climate change and fails to consider the need to reduce our use of fossil fuels rather than drilling for yet more resources.

After offering flag-waving support for extracting and burning dirty shale gas, the journalist attacks the tactics that Friends of the Earth is using.

He claims that we are ‘manipulating the planning system’ when we are supporting people in their legal rights to object to planning applications for shale gas exploration. This is the kind of activity that is widely trumpeted in the same newspaper when the subject of the planning application is wind turbines.

He seems appalled that we are contacting the Environment Agency about the permits it is supposed to require of drillers. When Cuadrilla proposed to test drill in Sussex recently, the Environment Agency said they didn’t need permits for dealing with the waste from the drilling, even though they have required these elsewhere. When we questioned this, the Environment Agency changed its mind. We offer no apology for making sure the regulators aren’t asleep on the job.

But better regulation can only make the industry safer – it can’t make it safe. That was the experience in Australia where extraction of unconventional gas such as shale gas has caused serious environmental and health problems.

And safety will be the biggest concern for people living near proposed shale gas wells. They won’t be reassured by the United Nations Environment Program which concluded that ‘fracking may result in unavoidable environmental impacts even if [unconventional gas] is extracted properly’.

No wonder that in an opinion poll last year, given the choice between having a shale gas well or a wind turbine within two miles of their home, only 11% said a shale gas well compared to 67% favouring a wind turbine.

Having condemned our tactics the journalist also questions our motivation, identifying Friends of the Earth’s ‘obsession’ with global warming as driving our anti-fracking work. We make no apology for this. Tackling climate change is the challenge of our age and it’s the one that our hundreds of thousands of members and supporters want us to take action on.

This is why proposals to frack for shale gas are facing stiff opposition across the UK. Not just from environmental groups concerned about the impact on our climate but from worried local residents in Lancashire, Sussex, Somerset, Northern Ireland and elsewhere. The Government wants to open up much of England to licensing that would allow fracking and we are preparing to work with communities across the whole country who don’t want to see this happen.

For Friends of the Earth, fracking for shale gas is the wrong direction for UK energy policy. It’s a risk we don’t need to take.

Ask the Scottish Government to ban unconventional gas and fracking now. Take action.

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