UK Shale Gas: A trade union view
The Spectator magazine recently held an energy event called The UK Domestic Energy Landscape: Fixing Britain’s Energy Market, hosted at the offices of the law firm Eversheds. Carbon Brief reported that it “was best summed up” by one of their partners Marcus Trinick who said:
“There is no such thing as objective truth in energy policy. Truth is the first casualty of the discussion. Everyone has a position.”
Last week we were given the Engineering Employers’ Federation (EEF) position on shale gas who stated that the debate around shale gas in the UK was possibly less dramatic than being portrayed. And here perhaps is the first casualty of truth in their piece. For the communities on the fault line of shale gas prospecting there is nothing less dramatic than the very real concerns they have about fracking.
Cuadrilla, the only company to have fracked in the UK at Presse Hall in Lancashire, had to cease operations following two earthquakes due to their fracking activities. Subsequently new evidence has emerged from an exchange of emails between the company and the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) implying a “loss of integrity” in the wellbore casing resulting in a leakage of shale fluid and gases. Cuadrilla currently has two planning applications to drill and test frack at Rosacre and Little Plumpton pending with Lancashire County Council.
We are assured there will be a robust regulatory framework in place for the industry but this is highly questionable not least when David Cameron in his quest to go all out for shale has opposed legally binding shale gas regulation at the European level. The announcement in the autumn statement committing £5million to fund “independent evidence directly to the public on the robustness of the existing regulatory regime” sounds like another exercise in PR along with the range of policy initiatives already announced to get the public onside.
A major concern remains the climate change impacts of fracking. Climate change is a fundamental issue for trade unions and unlike the EEF, PCS believe the debate is very much one of climate change targets and shale gas versus renewables. Whilst we may be gas dependent and development of a domestic gas energy industry could provide some safeguard from price shocks due to import prices, serious doubts have been raised that the reserves exist as estimated and that even if they do, the “commercial production of shale gas will be worth the human and environmental risks”.
Renewable energy is a growth area and urgently required if we are to meet our binding carbon emissions reduction targets. Its contribution to the UK electricity supply is increasing and recently filled the gap when nuclear and gas power dropped off. Therefore the sum quoted by EEF of £33bn would do better to be invested in renewables which by 2032 could enable not just more domestic power generated by sustainable sources, but also create sustainable – climate – jobs as set out in the updated One Million Climate jobs campaign pamphlet.
PCS, along with other UK unions such as Unite is opposed to fracking, and calling for a moratorium on all fracking activities as we believe it is not an answer to our energy needs, the economic or climate crisis. However we recognise there is a wider debate to be had on the future of UK energy and how we protect the pay, jobs and future of workers in the energy sector, including for our own members working in government departments which oversee energy policy and regulation.
The consultation of TUC affiliates about a just transition to a low carbon-economy, including a moratorium on extreme energy such as fracking passed at TUC congress this year is an important step towards this. We know there will be a wide range of views and this is part of our contribution to the debate. However if we understand the truth that climate change is a trade union issue and the burning of fossil fuels at our current rate is unsustainable, then we can ensure these truths are not casualties of a debate shaped by powerful corporate interests rather than the interests of our members and the planet we inhabit.