Shale gas extraction involving controversial hydraulic fracturing would thwart the UK’s efforts to cut carbon emissions and should be prohibited, the UK parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee said.
In a report published ahead of the final Commons debate on fracking legislation in the Infrastructure Bill, the committee also warned over environmental risks posed by the technique including polluting of water supplies, noise and disruption.
"A moratorium on the extraction of unconventional gas through fracking is needed to avoid both the inconsistency with our climate change obligations and to allow the uncertainty surrounding environmental risks to be fully resolved," the report stated.
The report, also citing a general lack of public support for hydraulic fracturing, is in sharp contrast with the current government’s plans to foster development of the sector, believed to create new jobs and reduce energy prices.
The level of the government's commitment to fracking has been revealed in a recently leaked letter by Chancellor George Osborne, which called on members of the cabinet to 'make it a personal priority' to implement measures to help boost the shale industry. The letter further called for rapid progress on developing three or four 'exemplar drilling sites' to prove the concept of safe shale gas exploration, as well as contingency plans if Lancashire County Council turns down planning applications and a strategy to push fracking to the public.
Recommendations of the Environmental Audit Committee further include outright prohibition of shale gas exploration in protected areas such as national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and ancient woodlands. The technique should similarly be banned in all water source protection zones, which feed drinking water aquifers, the committee believes.
"We cannot allow Britain's national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty to be developed into oil and gas fields,” said the committee's chairwoman, Labour MP Joan Walley.
"Even if a national moratorium on shale drilling in the UK is not accepted there should be an outright ban on fracking in such special sites."
A number of the MPs on the committee have tabled an amendment to the Infrastructure Bill calling for a moratorium on fracking for shale gas.
Although proponents of exploiting the shale gas claim it could facilitate a transition from heavily polluting fossil fuels, such as coal, to cleaner energy sources, the committee strongly objected to shale gas being considered a convenient transition fuel.
They said it would take at least 10 to 15 years to fully develop the industry to make it financially viable, by which time the use of coal would already be phased out due to the EU emission targets.
The Infrastructure Bill includes measures to make it easier for energy companies to drill under people's homes without their permission and allows them to leave ‘any substance’ deep underground.
The committee criticised the changes to trespassing laws to allow fracking without residents' permission as having serious implications for citizens' rights, with Walley calling on Parliament to throw out the ‘profoundly undemocratic’ proposals.
To coincide with the final debate of the Bill, which has seen a number of amendments on fracking tabled, a protest is being held outside Parliament, with speeches by Vivienne Westwood, Bianca Jagger and former UK climate envoy John Ashton.
A spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change said: "We disagree with the conclusion of this report. We have one of the most robust regulatory regimes for shale gas.
"UK shale development is compatible with our goal to cut greenhouse gas emissions and does not detract from our support for renewables; in fact it could support development of intermittent renewables. To meet our challenging climate targets we will need significant quantities of renewables, nuclear and gas in our energy mix. Shale gas has huge potential to create jobs and make us less reliant on imports."