Infrastructure Bill [HL]

Written evidence submitted by John Oddie (IB 25)

My specific comments relate to the provisions relating to fracking. This bill gives fracking companies the right to drill under peoples’ homes and land at depths 300m and greater and to insert any substance that they wish without permission of the land owner.

This specific provision is based on the Government’s belief that unconventional Oil & Gas will provide energy security to the UK and also that shale gas will operate as a bridge fuel. They therefore wish to make it simpler and cheaper for fracking companies to exploit on shore shale. My strong preference would be for this section of the bill to be removed in its entirety for the following reasons.

The world is heading towards irreversible climate change. Our further exploitation of Oil & Gas reserves is irresponsible and unfair given the levels of pollution we have already spewed into the atmosphere. We should pursue alternatives including aggressive support for energy efficiency, renewables and local energy storage instead.

There is no scientific evidence to support shale gas as a bridge fuel, the only rigorous study to date indicated that shale gas was irrelevant and that in fact policy on renewables was the key to avoiding irreversible climate change. See ‘Climate consequences of natural gas as a bridge fuel’ by Michael Levi Jan 2013.

Fugitive emission of methane from Oil & Gas wells, both conventional and unconventional, occur long after the completion of the use of the wells. Fugitive methane is not measured but is definitely much higher than estimated by government bodies. Without precise information on this it is not possible to justify natural gas’ ‘clean’ status compared to coal.

The structure of US shale and UK shales are radically different. UK shales contain significant levels of natural faults. To date the shale companies have done a poor job of pre-drilling geology. This represents a significant risk to local communities.

To date water pollution as a result of fracking is largely due to well integrity failures due to poor construction. This continues to be an issue in the USA despite improved design. Several hundred verified cases in Pennsylvania and in Texas. Our lack of independent verification well design is a serious concern.

The impact of fracking is not short-term but long-term. Fracking fluid is active long after the completion of the frack. We are embarking on fracking for short-term gain but we have no real practical knowledge of the long-term impacts. Despite claims that we have fracked in the UK for 40 years the reality is that this type of fracking was started in the US in 1998 and we are still in the early stages of an experimental process. Our legislators approach to this is issue is cavalier in the extreme.

Although there have been insufficient studies on the impact fracking on human health the limited studies all show the impacts are severe and negative. Given that we plan fracking in densely populated areas this seems like a vast experiment at the public’s expense. Enough evidence exists to require proper rigorous studies before we embark on this course.

The Government laud’s the regulatory regime in the UK but this in fact is completely dependent on the integrity and competence of the fracking companies and is in effect self-regulation. This has clearly failed us dramatically in the banking sector and with the press, why should we trust this industry?

The extraction of shale gas or oil in any quantity will require a significant number of wells to be drilled. The industry is very coy about revealing their estimates for obvious reasons, but we are in effect talking about the industrialisation of large swathes of the North West, North East and South East of the United Kingdom. The public overwhelmingly oppose this.

Planning consent for exploratory wells explicitly prohibits enquiry about the required infrastructure and extent of exploitation. This is a Trojan horse strategy and is dishonest and unacceptable.

Failing the complete removal of these provisions the bill should at least be amended to include the following:

· The fracking companies are allowed to leave the drillings in an altered state. There is no provision to indemnify the land-owners for any problems created as a result of the fracking companies activity. These companies themselves may not survive. There is no recognition of this in the bill and no provision to indemnify landowners for any resulting damage. Given that landowners are not consulted and that the planning system has been rigged to make opposition difficult this is distinctly unequitable and should be rectified.

· Regulation needs to be strengthened to include pre-drilling monitoring of local water quality, local air quality, and local noise pollution. During drilling and exploitation these should be monitored independently at the expense of the company but by public bodies independent of political or industry interference.

· Fracking companies right to alter the state of land should not be given as a blanket permission but the impact of their intervention should be clearly stated in any planning application and an independent monitoring process to ensure that they do not exceed their permissions included.

· The blanket right to put any substance into their drillings should be removed and the substances permitted should be subject to a consent process that includes a rigorous and publicly transparent assessment of their potential environmental impact, including public rights to object.

· Planning permissions for exploratory wells should be allowed to consider the potential impact of exploitation. It makes no sense to perform exploratory wells where the exploitation would not be acceptable.

· Public concern about the impact on property values is in no way addressed and suitable compensation to property owners needs to be included.

· There is no clarity on how fracking waste is disposed of. There will be a lot of it. Before this bill is enacted our legislators should have a clear view of how this waste will be managed, and this should be public and transparent. It is irresponsible to enact this legislation without clarity on this issue.

Fracking has no social licence in the United Kingdom. In countries where fracking is established public opinion has steadily grown against fracking. In the USA and Australia the majority of the public now oppose fracking. Most recently the public voted for a ban in Denton Texas and New York state imposed a ban after consideration of the issues and risks. Our Government seem to think that once we have grown used to it we will be different. This seems like the triumph of optimism over experience.

December 2014

Prepared 6th January 2015