Exeter's Labour MP Ben Bradshaw admits we’ll be fracked under a future Labour government

23 June 2014

Exeter Green Party has been accused by Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw of misleading the public over his stand on fracking. We don’t think so, but invite you to look at the evidence and decide for yourself.

Twitter conversationsThe accusations arose following comments made on Twitter by Exeter Green Party member Andrew Bell, who having receiving a letter on the subject from Mr Bradshaw, tweeted:

Have had response from @UKLabour #Exeter MP @BenPBradshaw on #fracking indicating he supports govt policy. Only @TheGreenParty oppose.

Ben Bradshaw responded:

@aw_bell @exetergreens Untrue. Suggest you post my letter in full & let people decide.

So, at Mr Bradshaw’s request, we publish the letter in full, with some of our own annotations and comments. (letter also available without annotation on Mr Bradshaw’s website

Andrew Bell said: “I wish Ben would just come clean and say without any ambiguity that he is pro fracking. It is almost as if he is ashamed or embarrassed of his support for it. Perhaps he knows that people may be more than a little disappointed to discover that he backs government plans to change trespass laws so that shale gas exploration companies can drill under people’s homes without permission and with impunity.”

Election Agent for Exeter Green Party, Isaac Price Sosner, said:

“Ben’s position is basically no different from the government position. Labour is saying they are pro-fracking but with a bit of extra regulation thrown in. How this proposed regulation is substantially different to what is already being proposed by the government is hard to see.”

The Green Party position on fracking IS clear:

We are committed to renewable energy solutions and to moving away from climate change inducing fossil fuels. The Party is totally opposed to fracking in the UK and want a Europe-wide ban on shale gas extraction. The Party is committed to fight against fracking at every level.

Fracking could lead to a host of local environmental and health impacts - multiple heavy vehicle movements, the consumption of huge amounts of water, the high risk of contamination of aquifers, even earthquakes and tremors. But crucially, the independent Committee on Climate Change has said that Britain might not be able to frack and meet its legally binding emissions targets. The only sensible thing to do with shale gas is to leave it in the ground.

The Greens believe that the focus should instead be on creating jobs and improving the UK’s energy security by going all out for home-grown renewable energy and energy efficiency, and helping communities generate their own heat and power locally.

Ben Bradshaw MP’s letter in full

Parts in bold, we believe, indicate clearly that Ben Bradshaw supports fracking. [Parts in italics are annotations/ comments by Exeter Green Party]

Dear [constituent]

Thank you for your recent email regarding shale gas extraction and the Government's announcement in the Queen's Speech.

Labour believes shale gas extraction should only go ahead if there is robust regulation, comprehensive monitoring and strict enforcement, and in a way which is consistent with decarbonising our electricity supply by 2030. [In other words, like the government, which is also talking up ‘robust regulation’, he believes it should go ahead!]

Gas is a fuel which remains vital to the operation of our homes, services and businesses in the UK. 80% of our homes rely on gas for heating, while around 30% of our electricity comes from gas fired power stations. While low carbon power generation will reduce our reliance on fossil fuels over time, we will still need flexible power to help manage peaks in demand. Projections from the National Grid expect gas will continue to play an important role in our energy system for many years to come.

While demand for gas continues to be high, our ability to source this fuel from within our own borders has been steadily declining. In 2004, the UK became a net importer of gas for the first time since North Sea extraction began. For those reasons, the possibility to source gas from the UK should not be ruled out without careful consideration, especially given the recent behaviour of President Putin and the reliance of much of the rest of Europe on Russian gas.

The Government’s Infrastructure Bill proposes changes to the regulations on extracting shale gas. Conventional oil and gas exploration and production mostly involves vertical or near-vertical drilling from one spot at the surface. A well for shale gas, however, will usually run vertically down and then extend horizontally for some distance – this could be as much as 2 miles, or even more. This would mean that companies would have to seek permission from a large number of landowners. As it stands, the existing legislation allows coal mining, water, sewage and gas transportation pipelines to have underground access without needing the permission of the landowner, but not shale gas or deep geothermal. In reality it [i.e. allowing people the right to say no to shale gas companies drilling under their homes] would provide an effective block on extracting shale gas and deep geothermal in the UK. [Clearly Mr Bradshaw sees this as a negative as it would prevent fracking taking place; we see it as a positive!]

At the end of May the government published a consultation on changes to trespass regulations and confirmed their intention to legislate in the forthcoming Infrastructure Bill. These changes will mean that while shale gas companies will still need the permission of landowners for surface access and still require local planning consent, underpinned by environmental impact assessments, they will not need permission for underground access at depths of 300m or more. Labour does not oppose these reforms. [Unequivocal: Bradshaw supports government plans to steamroller through legislation that will deny people any say in what happens to the very ground beneath their homes.]

 However, the issue of underground access rights is separate from the environmental and safety framework. Only by fully addressing legitimate environmental and safety concerns about extracting shale gas with robust regulation, comprehensive monitoring and strict enforcement will people have confidence that the exploration and possible extraction of shale gas is a safe and reliable source that can contribute to the UK’s energy mix.

I will therefore continue to push for the environmental framework to be strengthened. In 2012 Labour set out six tough environmental conditions which should be in place prior to any shale gas extraction taking place in the UK. While the government accepted four of the six conditions in December 2012, we still believe that the regulatory framework is not sufficiently robust. [It is clear that after a bit of tinkering of the ‘regulatory framework’, you will be fracked under a future Labour government!]

It is clear that the level of methane in groundwater should be assessed prior to any drilling. Methane can occur naturally in groundwater, so it is important that robust baseline information exists to monitor activity against. Further, all monitoring activity should take place over a twelve month period, to allow sufficient time to gather all of the evidence required to make an informed decision on whether to proceed with exploration. Labour will continue to push for the environmental framework to be strengthened in these areas and for assurances that the responsibility for clean-up costs and liability for any untoward consequences rests fairly and squarely with the industry, not with taxpayers or homeowners. Many other concerns remain, particularly regarding the effectiveness of the monitoring process and the capacity of the relevant bodies to undertake that monitoring and enforce the regulations, which must be addressed. [Here Bradshaw acknowledges that fracking may well have huge environmental and social impacts, causing pollution and devastating communities – ‘clean-up costs’ and ‘untoward consequences’ – yet is still willing to back the government as they push this dangerous, dirty and unnecessary technology]

Finally, it goes without saying that UK energy policy needs a massive shift towards low and zero carbon generation. So I have been dismayed by the decline in the growth of the renewables sector under this Government. Labour is committed to revitalising the renewables sector and to a binding carbon reduction target by 2030. [What reduction target Labour supports is not clear. Greens want to see a 60% reduction by 2030]

I hope that this is helpful.

With very best wishes,

Ben Bradshaw MP