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2 December 2016updated 09 Sep 2021 1:56pm

Lancashire fracking debate: the MP’s view

MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood Cat Smith asks: is this government really committed to localism?

By Cat Smith MP

When I stood in the Lancaster and Fleetwood constituency at the General Election in 2015 I did so saying publicly that I would oppose fracking. This was a widely felt issue, with the majority of the electorate opposed to fracking in all parts of the constituency from rural to urban.

Concerns raised were of course varied. Some residents were worried about earth tremors, a reasonable fear given the proximity of my constituents to the test-drilling site in Blackpool which caused them in 2011. Other concerns came from residents taking water directly from the water table. Was it really safe to drink?

This was a particular issue for those in rural parts of my constituency who are not connected to mains water and for farmers who use surface water to tend to their crops and livestock.

Eighteen months on from that election, where I won the seat from the Conservatives (although even I wouldn’t argue purely on an anti-fracking ticket), my constituents have been rocked by the recent overturning by the government of Lancashire County Council’s decision not to permit fracking.

There is a strong feeling that this is an affront to local democracy. It seems the government’s commitment to localism only applies when local communities agree with what ministers think. Forcing fracking upon the people of Lancashire is a slap in the face to democracy and any pretence of devolution to the north.

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Scientists agree that if we are to avoid dangerous levels of global warming, more than 80 per cent of known fossil fuels need to stay in the ground. It is a fact that has been acknowledged by Shell, President Obama and the Governor of the Bank of England.

Fracking, however, risks replacing renewable energy, rather than coal in the UK. The government has already committed to the phase out of coal by 2025. The fracking industry’s best estimates believe that it will be around the middle of the next decade before the UK produces significant quantities of shale.

Fracking for unconventional oil and gas just adds to the stockpile of fossil fuels that we can’t burn, making it more challenging to keep the world below the internationally agreed target of no more than 1.5 degrees of global warming.

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It is increasingly obvious that we cannot ignore that the global transition to a 100 per cent clean energy economy is rapidly accelerating. At the heart of the historic Paris climate agreement reached last year is a commitment to reaching zero emissions global economy in the second half of the century. An agreement signed up to by this government.

Mark Carney warned that to minimise financial risks from this transformation of the global economy, the transition away from high carbon industries should begin early and follow a predictable path, helping markets to anticipate the transition to a net zero economy.

The Labour Party’s position on fracking has changed since the general election. In September 2016 the Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Barry Gardiner said: “The real reason to ban fracking is that it locks us into an energy infrastructure that is based on fossil fuels long after our country needs to have moved to clean energy.”

Parliament has ratified the Paris Agreement. Now we urgently need a plan to deliver it. The government should look at the evidence and listen to scientists, economists and local communities across the UK.

To protect our environment, to support our economy in the long term and to provide regulatory certainty about the direction of travel, the government should support my call and the call of the Labour Party for an outright ban on fracking.