South East Wales

Fracking: Friends of the Earth Cymru concerns after UK government approval

An environmental group in Wales has reiterated its opposition to a controversial method of gas extraction after UK government experts said it should continue.

Friends of the Earth Cymru raised safety fears about fracking, where high pressure water and chemicals are used to release underground gas.

Experts confirmed the process triggered two tremors near Blackpool last year.

But they said it should be allowed under strict guidelines.

Shale gas is seen as a way of ensuring relatively cheap energy supplies.

A number of companies want to use fracking to test for the gas, including at a site in the Vale of Glamorgan.

An application for exploratory drilling there was rejected by the local authority last year, and will now be considered by a public inquiry next month.

In a report issued on Tuesday the UK government-appointed panel of experts says it believes there will probably be more quakes caused by fracking but that they will be too small to do structural damage above ground.

It recommends strict guidelines including more monitoring of seismic events.

The panel's report is going out for a six-week consultation period, with the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) issuing a firm set of regulations at some point after that.

However Friends of the Earth Cymru director Gareth Clubb called for the process to be avoided altogether.

'Emissions intensive'

"Our principal concerns relate to the climate change emissions which would be associated with the use of shale gas on a large scale to generate electricity," Mr Clubb told BBC Radio Wales.

"We know that shale gas is a lot more emissions intensive than the use of conventional gas, for example. And in many cases it would come in only slightly better than coal, or in some places worse than coal."

Mr Clubb quoted figures suggesting shale gas extraction could take up over a quarter of the carbon emissions budget of the UK

"It's very seductive to cabinet ministers to think there is all this resource lying underground but when the climate change impact is taken into account it's really something that shouldn't be touched," he said.

Mr Clubb also raised safety fears around fracking and worries about the chemicals used.

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Simon Moore, an environment and energy research fellow at the Policy Exchange think-tank produced a report on shale gas earlier this year.

He said gas-fired powers stations were better for the environment than coal-powered power stations.

With regard to the earth tremors caused at Blackpool, he said: "The report that Decc has commissioned and produced... concludes that there was no property damage, no risk (of) injury or anything from those earthquakes.

"Their conclusion was that the highest (tremors) that could be expected from this process would not be sufficient to cause any damage."

Mr Moore acknowledged fears that fracking could cause contamination.

But he added: "It's worthwhile remembering that so far most of the stories around that are come from the US where the regulatory regime is much less stringent than exists in the UK already.


"If fracking is to become more widespread within the UK I think we'll see even greater emphasis on some of the regulation around protecting water tables, that kind of thing."

Mr Moore said the experience of fracking in the USA showed the potential around this form of technology, and that estimates showed there was possibly several decades' worth of shale gas in the UK.

"Today's report, allowing the next step in the drilling process effectively, should let those companies involved work out how economically they can produce shale gas in the UK."

The Welsh government said it believed there was a need to look at both the potential of gas exploration, but also concerns about the potential impacts of this form of gas extraction.

Image copyright (C) British Broadcasting Corporation
Image caption Campaigners against fracking gathered outside the Vale of Glamorgan's offices last year

A spokesperson said: "As the UK government is responsible for the granting of exploration licences, well consents and field development consents, we would welcome them working with devolved administrations across the UK to put in place a robust and evidence based policy framework for shale gas in the UK."

In January the Welsh government revealed it would hold a public inquiry into test drilling for gas in the Vale of Glamorgan.

Vale council rejected an application by Bridgend-based Coastal Oil and Gas to carry out exploratory drilling for shale gas at Llandow.

The company appealed to the Welsh government against the decision and the inquiry is due to be held on 23 May.

Residents were asked to register objections to the proposal with the Planning Inspectorate.

Local people have voiced fears that the exploratory drilling could be followed by fracking.

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