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Shale gas and oil

Our view

We all have a role to play in making our energy system more sustainable, from reducing consumer energy demand, to greater energy efficiency measures from government. However, CPRE is clear that there are no easy solutions to determining our future energy mix. Given the grave threat posed by climate change to the future of the English countryside, we rapidly need to move away from fossil fuels towards low carbon energy.

The Government’s Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) process highlighted significant uncertainties associated with the impacts of shale gas. The impacts of shale oil are even more uncertain – the SEA did not adequately cover shale oil. We believe that the Government needs to do more to tighten the safeguards to adequately protect the countryside and climate, and reassure the public.

The Conservative Manifesto of 2017 pledged a radical shake up of the way applications for fracking are dealt with, potentially dealing a huge blow to communities hoping to have their say on local applications. The manifesto also promised changes to the regulatory regime, with a commitment to a new environmental regulator. However, at this stage it is not clear if this amounts to anything more than a consolidation of existing regulations within the responsibilities of a single government agency.

We also believe the shale gas and oil operators themselves need to do more to demonstrate that they are following the very best practice. We would like to see a more precautionary approach given the major uncertainties, and the potential cumulative impact on the landscape and climate change.

CPRE and fracking - it's time for a moratorium

In June 2017, CPRE called for a moratorium on fracking unless it can be clearly demonstrated that fracking would:

  • help secure the radical reductions in carbon emissions required to comply with planning policy and meet legally binding climate change targets;
  • not lead to unacceptable cumulative harm, whether for particular landscapes or on the English countryside as a whole, and
  • be carefully controlled by effective systems of regulation and democratic planning, which are adequately resourced at both local and national levels.

This position is set out in more detail in CPRE’s Policy Guidance Note (PGN).

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The Government argues that shale gas is consistent with the transition to a low carbon energy system, but this is only the case if it replaces a higher carbon energy source. An example of a relatively higher carbon option is coal power without measures to capture and store greenhouse gases, which are not yet available anyway. The carbon benefits of shale gas are not certain, but it is even more unclear how shale oil exploitation can fit with an overall reduction in carbon given that it is a relatively high carbon fuel.

A significant gap is due to open up between predicted emissions and the UK’s binding targets in the 2020s, which the Government’s Emissions Reduction Plan (ERP) is required to address. Pressure from the Treasury to reduce energy costs for businesses has led to the ERP being seriously delayed. It is becoming almost inconceivable that fracking would help rather than hinder the challenge of meeting these vital targets, hence the need for a moratorium until the ERP is published and can be assessed independently.

 The ERP will be crucial to tackling climate change. Farming and rural communities are already suffering the effects of wetter winters, more storms, high winds and shifting seasons. As sea levels rise, we’re likely to see dramatic further changes. In the East of England we will lose fens, beaches and probably entire villages too. Given this, we need to follow the precautionary principle in our approach to fracking.


The issues:

Extracting shale gas.

What is fracking?

Fracking (or hydraulic fracturing) refers to the method used to extract gas or oil from shale rock by injecting large volumes of water containing a number of additives. This includes sand and lubricating fluids into the rock under high pressure.


Preese Hall, Weeton, Preston Preese Hall, Weeton, Preston

Earth tremors, fracking licences and the Infrastructure Act

The Government halted all onshore fracking operations in 2011 over concerns at earth tremors after fracking at the Preese Hall site in Lancashire, which were attributed to Cuadrilla’s operations there.

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