Photographer: Paul Thomas/Bloomberg

U.K. Labour Party Would Ban Hydraulic Fracking for Shale Gas

  • Labour will instead pursue renewable energy, spokesman says
  • Shale gas could meet country’s requirements for 47 years

The U.K. opposition Labour Party would ban hydraulic fracturing for shale gas if it wins the next general election, according to its energy spokesman Barry Gardiner.

Labour had previously supported only a moratorium on the process, known as fracking, until the industry met certain environmental safeguards. On Monday, Gardiner altered the policy, saying the need to tackle climate change makes emissions-free renewables a more viable energy option.

Fracking “locks us into an energy infrastructure that is based on fossil fuels long after our country needs to have moved to clean energy,” he said in a speech at Labour’s annual conference in Liverpool, northern England. 

The policy shift adds more uncertainty to an industry that’s struggled to get up and running despite tax breaks and the easing of planning restrictions since 2010. The U.K. estimated in 2013 it may have as much as 1,300 trillion cubic feet of gas locked in shale formations in northern England -- enough to supply Britain’s needs for 47 years, based on a 10 percent extraction rate. The Conservative government vowed on Monday to continue supporting shale gas.

“The safe development of shale can create jobs and improve our energy security –- that’s why the government supports shale and will ensure local residents benefit from the proceeds,” Minister for Industry and Energy Jesse Norman said in a statement.

Technical Difficulties

Third Energy U.K. Gas Ltd. was given the right to frack an existing U.K. natural gas well in May. That would be the first use of the practice since 2011, when Cuadrilla Resources Ltd. unknowingly drilled into an area with a fault, sparking earth tremors and a moratorium. A decision on Cuadrilla’s application to drill and frack eight wells, seen as a bellwether for the industry, is due on Oct. 6.

“If we want to maintain the right of the general public to access heat and power securely, manage climate change and create U.K.-based jobs, then we need to develop renewables, nuclear and natural gas from shale,” Ken Cronin, chief executive officer of the industry group U.K. Onshore Oil and Gas, said in a statement. “To go for a narrow one-size-fits-all approach will lead to more imports and a detrimental impact on the environment and economy.”

Hostile Regimes

Former Prime Minister David Cameron tried to reinvigorate the industry with tax and planning measures, but it has yet to overcome a mix of technical difficulties and opposition from residents and environmentalists. His successor, Theresa May, another Conservative, has yet to spell out a detailed policy on fracking.

The GMB labor union criticized Gardiner’s proposed ban, saying it would leave Britain dependent on unfriendly foreign regimes for its gas needs.

“Carting gas across oceans is not good for the environment and not good for security of supply,” GMB Scotland Secretary Gary Smith said in a statement. Without shale gas, “we are increasingly going to be dependent on regimes fronted by henchmen, hangmen and headchoppers for the gas we need. That isn’t ethical and is surely an abdication of our environmental and moral responsibilities.”

Gardiner said his party will work to preserve energy industry jobs, even as it kills off the nascent fracking industry.

Job Creation

“We will consult with our colleagues in industry and the trade unions about the best way to transition our energy industry to create the vital jobs and apprenticeships we are going to need for the U.K.’s low-carbon future,” he said.

Gardiner also announced:

  • Labour will insulate the homes of disabled veterans for free
  • The party will push a program of community energy projects, including rooftop solar panels and small wind farms in order to decentralize gas and electricity supplies
  • Labour will pass a law compelling utilities to put customers by default on the cheapest energy tariffs and inform them if they could buy gas and power elsewhere
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