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'Take foot off the pedal on shale gas', charities warn Government

Last modified: 10 September 2012

Habitat Management

Three leading environmental organisations are warning Government not to push ahead with UK shale gas extraction at the very least until the potential impacts are properly understood and provisions are put in place to protect the countryside and ensure that any development is in line with UK Climate Change Act commitments. 

The RSPB, Friends of the Earth and WWF say the environmental impacts of shale gas extraction are not yet fully understood, and the regulations currently in place around it are inadequate.  The organisations have written to Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey to urge caution.  They are asking that Government demonstrates that shale gas exploitation in the UK meets two key tests.

Firstly, shale gas must not endanger the UK’s ability to deliver on its climate change commitments.  Evidence suggests that the overall climate impact of shale is greater than conventional gas and could be as high as that of coal, and that exploiting the world’s resources of unconventional gas will do nothing to prevent dangerous levels of climate change. 

Secondly, shale gas exploitation must not be at the expense of nature.  This means that Government and the industry need to prove that shale gas can be delivered without unacceptable impacts on UK wildlife and water resources, and that the laws in place are fit for purpose.  If the UK’s shale gas resources were fully exploited, it would mean thousands of drilling sites across the country. Each site is estimated to be at least a hectare in size - equivalent to eight Olympic-sized swimming pools - and as this is a new industry, there is insufficient scientific evidence on the risks shale gas production will pose to the natural environment and how to minimise them.  A review is underway, led by the Environment Agency, but until this is complete and the implications properly addressed, the charities are calling for Government to put any decisions on future plans for the industry on hold.

Andy Atkins, Friends of the Earth Executive Director, said: “The Government must halt shale gas drilling to properly assess the risks – including the impact on climate change. With big changes to our electricity system due in the months ahead, Energy Secretary Ed Davey must resist calls to hook the nation on polluting gas that has been the main drive of rising energy bills, and instead back a switch to home-grown clean energy. Britain has some of the best wind, wave and tidal resources in Europe – developing them will bring in investment and create thousands of jobs.”

Mike Clarke, RSPB Chief Executive, said; “We’re concerned that Government is pushing ahead with shale gas extraction without clear safeguards in place to protect wildlife and people.  The disturbance that drilling shale gas could cause to wildlife and habitats has not been properly explored and neither has the risk of water contamination.  Human health and wildlife could be at risk if the Government jumps the gun.”       

David Nussbaum, Chief Executive of WWF-UK said "Recent headlines revealing that Arctic sea ice has reached its lowest ever level should serve as a wake-up call. Instead of jumping on the shale gas bandwagon, which is clearly not consistent with a low emission future, the Government must reaffirm its commitment to tackling climate change and prioritise renewables and energy efficiency."

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