Infrastructure Bill [HL]

Written evidence submitted by GMB (IB 36)

Summary

Please find attached a submission from GMB to the Public Bill Committee considering the Infrastructure Bill. Our comments focus on one specific part of the Bill, namely Clauses 38-42 in Part 5 of the Bill, which relate to the section on petroleum and geothermal energy and specifically "streamlined access to onshore oil and gas reserves" or fracking.


GMB is the gas industry union. We represent tens of thousands of workers across the gas industry. GMB believes that it is important that these workers, our members, have a say in this important piece of legislation, specifically the clauses that relate to the gas industry.


GMB knows that the gas industry provides tens of thousands of comparatively well paid, highly skilled jobs in the UK. The economics of gas and the role it plays in heating UK homes will ensure we are using gas for many decades to come. We believe gas will potentially have a very significant role to play in low carbon technologies of the future, like Fuel Cells.


The challenge is therefore where and how are we to obtain the gas the country will need into the future. GMB believes it would be irresponsible to rule out the idea of fracking at this stage. Apart from the economic arguments and concerns over security of supply, there is a moral argument that the country does need to confront in terms of taking responsibility for managing our own carbon emissions.

Submission

1. GMB is the UK’s third largest trade union with over 630,000 members employed in almost every sector of the economy. GMB is the energy union, with tens of thousands of members employed throughout the energy sector – in gas, nuclear, electricity, coal and renewables, and many thousands more in the energy supply chain.

2. GMB welcomes this opportunity to submit our views on one specific part of the Infrastructure Bill, namely clauses 38 -42 in Part 5 of the Bill, which relate to the section on petroleum and geothermal energy in deep-level land, specifically "streamlined access to onshore oil and gas reserves" or fracking.

3. GMB has tens of thousands of members employed in the gas industry, and has been involved in the industry since our union’s inception 125 years ago.

4. The purpose of GMB’s evidence is to provide a balanced alternative viewpoint for the Committee’s consideration, based on GMB’s 125 years of involvement and understanding of the gas industry.

5. GMB is still deliberating policy in relation to shale gas, and believes that it has been sensible to keep an open mind on the possibilities surrounding the extraction and use of shale gas, while it is established if there are actually viable shale gas reserves that can be exploited.

6. GMB fully understands the serious threat that global warming poses. We have many members who have been impacted by climate change and are on the front line dealing with the threat from, and consequences of, climate change, like those from the Environment Agency.

7. GMB understands that the debate around climate change is complex. We know that there are no cheap and easy solutions in dealing with climate change. In recent years, GMB has often felt like a lone voice in pointing out many of the arguments about a situation where ‘clean, green’ electricity powers our transport infrastructure and heats our homes etc, the economics of which simply do not add up.

8. Around 80% of the homes in the UK are heated by gas. A unit of electricity is about 4 times more expensive than an equivalent unit of gas. The government’s own figures suggest that the difference in price between gas and electricity is set to increase in the years ahead. We have challenged any political party to put in their manifesto that they will tell households they will have to rip out their gas heating and replace it with electric heating, at a cost of many thousands of pounds, whilst watching their bills to heat their homes go up four-fold.

9. We do not believe that any organisation that had a serious understanding of the economics around heating from gas would back such a proposition either. The poorest will be hit hardest by the move to heating homes from electricity. Moving to heating homes through electricity would also have massive implications for the electricity infrastructure. The cost of further investment, on top of money already being spent, would be astronomical. Heating homes from electricity also has massive implications in terms of carbon because of the way we generate and distribute electricity is carbon intensive and inefficient.

10. In short, it is an economic reality that gas will clearly be a fuel we are using to heat households in the UK for many decades to come. The challenge is how we do that more efficiently, whilst also meeting our national obligations to reduce carbon emissions. It is possible (please note the emphasis on possible) that shale gas may play a part in meeting this challenge.

11. GMB believes that we do not yet have a technical solution to heating homes using electricity at the moment. We believe that heat pumps, whilst they have some merit, are not suitable for the vast of UK homes. 80% of homes that exist today will still be there in 2050, which means that they will not be suitable for using heat pumps.

12. GMB does believe that we are on the cusp of a technological breakthrough, which will radically transform how we heat our homes and generate electricity. From a customer perspective generating electricity through gas locally would be much better. In terms of reducing carbon, generating electricity at a local level would also be far better.

13. Micro combined heat and power units look as though they are a viable transitional technology, which will both heat homes and generate power at source.

14. The next step in the technology journey could very well be the development of fuel cells. Fuel cells are highly efficient and they generate no emissions. Both fuel cells and micro combined heat and power units are dependent on gas.

15. If we accept that gas is going to be with us well into the future, then the key question is: where we are going to get the gas from? Apart from the question of security of supply, there is also a strong moral argument about how we obtain gas into the future.

16. Increasingly GMB believes the UK must take responsibility for the carbon we generate and the environmental impact we have producing energy. It is not good for the environment to transport gas over continents, or in container ships across seas. We are already importing gas from the Middle East and Russia.

17. We doubt some of the countries that we are importing our gas from have the stringent regulatory system, environmental regulations and power of enforcement that we do in the UK. Furthermore, we do not believe that some of the countries that we are importing gas from allow the community to be empowered to participate in the debate about exploiting energy reserves and the environment in the way we are doing so in the UK.

18. Very importantly for GMB, as a trade union, we do not believe that some of the countries that we are importing gas from afford their workers the same trade union rights, weak as they are, that we have in the UK. This has implications for pay, terms and conditions of employment, jobs and – crucially - both public and occupational safety.

19. GMB believes it is essential that we continue to debate the merits of shale. There are sound reasons around security of supply for the UK to have a high degree of energy independence, but as we have outlined above, there is a moral argument about taking responsibility for our carbon emissions.

20. GMB believes that, if shale gas extraction is to be developed, it will require proper levels of investment to ensure that we have people with adequate skills to work in the industry, so that we are not just reliant on imported labour and, very significantly, to develop the manufacturing supply chain around shale gas.

21. The development of micro combined heat and power units, as a transitional power technology, along with the development of fuel cells, will ensure that there are thousands of highly skilled, well-paid jobs retained here in the UK. Also, small-scale embedded electricity generation is clean, highly efficient and requires gas.

22. Apart from the many thousands of GMB members employed working on the gas infrastructure, there are employed by one company alone - British Gas - around 8,000 skilled and highly-trained gas engineers working in people’s homes, keeping them warm and safe every single day. In turn, these gas engineers are backed up by thousands of skilled and highly-motivated support staff based in the UK, who deal with millions of customers each year. This is without taking into account the workforces employed by the many other companies operating in the gas industry.

23. It is clear to GMB that, in the real world, gas has a vital part to play in the UK’s energy mix for decades to come. A balanced energy mix comprising gas, clean coal, nuclear and renewables is essential to safeguard the UK’s security of supply, tackle carbon emissions, provide affordable energy to households and industry, support the national and local economies and provide skilled, good quality jobs.

January 2015

Prepared 13th January 2015