Environment Agency head Lord Smith supports fracking expansion

Fracking operation in the US Fracking has been blamed for the pollution of water supplies and causing minor earthquakes

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The chairman of the Environment Agency, Lord Smith, has given his support to the expansion of the controversial "fracking" method of extracting natural gas from shale rock in the UK.

Energy companies say the use of fracking will lead to cheaper supplies.

Lord Smith told the BBC it could be a "useful addition" to the UK's "energy mix" if certain requirements were met.

But critics say there are risks from the process, which has been linked to two earth tremors in Lancashire.

Lord Smith will present his views in a lecture to the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce on Tuesday evening (which can be viewed live from 1800 BST)

The process of fracking (hydraulic fracturing) involves pumping water and chemicals into shale rock at high pressure to extract gas.

There has been a boom in the process worldwide, as nations seek new and less expensive ways to increase their energy supplies.

And last month a government-named panel of experts produced a report that said fracking should continue, but under strict conditions.

But fracking has been blamed for the pollution of underground and surface water supplies, as well as causing minor earthquakes.

Lord Smith told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that he would not stand in the way of fracking in the UK, as long as certain requirements were met, arguing that "it could be part of the answer" to the UK's energy demands.

"The source of a domestically available gas supply would, of course, be potentially very beneficial for our energy needs. It could provide energy security, which we don't necessarily have when we import gas from abroad. It could be affordable," he said.

Lord Chris Smith Lord Smith expressed support for nuclear power in his BBC interview

The former Labour cabinet minister said the process was capable of causing environmental risks, but with careful monitoring these may be overcome.

Lord Smith said natural gas "has to be drawn out of the ground effectively and safely".

He said that "means worrying about the way in which the drilling takes places, it means worrying about making sure the methane is captured rather than discharged to the air and it means making sure that none of the contaminated water gets into the ground water that sometimes can fill our water supplies".

The process would have to be monitored and regulated "very rigorously", he said.

"We need to do all the tests. We need to be very careful about how we do them. My expectation is that they will be able to do them safely and, if they can, then it would provide a useful addition to our energy mix," he said.

Lord Smith also highlighted concerns about power firms capturing carbon emissions to prevent them contributing to climate change.

Climate change 'realist'

"Whilst gas is better than coal in terms of its impact on greenhouse gases and climate change, nonetheless it's still a carbon intensive fuel," he said.

He added that there was a need to for "carbon capture in storage for gas-fired power stations" to ensure that the carbon is not released into the atmosphere.

He concluded that fracking "has to be done safely and we have to develop carbon capture in the storage to enable us to reduce the greenhouse gas impact that it will have".

The Environment Agency chairman also gave his backing to nuclear power, saying "it has to be part of the overall landscape of the provision of energy".

Admitting that he had changed his mind on the issue, he told the BBC: "Twenty years ago I would have said 'over my dead body' for nuclear power.

"Now climate change has made a realist of many of us and I have to say it has to be part of the mix."

But Tony Bosworth, of the campaign group Friends of the Earth, underlined the environmental impacts of fracking and called for the technology to be "shelved in the UK as it has been elsewhere in the world" - at least until it was "proven to be safe".

"We know 85% of people want to see more clean British energy, not gas", he said, arguing that ministers should focus less time and money on technologies that are unproven or, "like nuclear, are consistently late and reliant on vast public subsidies".

"The Government's plans for the electricity market must ensure that renewable energy fills the gap caused by the closure of power stations and the collapse of nuclear investment - this will boost our economy by creating thousands of new jobs."

Fracking is currently prohibited in France and Bulgaria, while US state Vermont has also approved an outright ban.

Fracking graphic

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  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    Convetnioanl mining (coal etc) was also known to produce minor earthquakes so the phenomenon is not new.

    What this could do is provide us with some breathing space until we sort out our future energy provision.

    The biggest danger is it being used as elastoplast, removing the need for further innovation and cessation of the UK becoming one wind farm.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Like anything these days those that are for it will be for it and those who are against it will be against it and no doubt deviations from the truth will be made by both sides to assist their cause and published by the media.

    Who to believe?

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    So would they be so happy to pursue this if the fracking sites were in London rather than Lancashire? Of course not!

    So minor quakes in Blackpool are considered an acceptable risk when the slighest wobble in London would have everyone running to the 'Insurance Claim Lawyers'.

    Yet again Westminster shows that it only really cares about people living in the London area.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    Demanding that carbon capture be used with fracking is a start, but not enough to make it the best option in my opinion. Thorium nuclear (liquid Fluoride Thorium reactors) would be a much better thing to develop, and we have deposits of Thorium in Cornwall and Wales.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    The tree huggers will come up with objections to whatever energy production is proposed. They will not be happy until they have returned us to the stone age without heating, lighting, running water, affordable transport, etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    I agree wholeheartedly with the comment that it is wrong that someone with no background in science should be making these decisions. It is a complex issue and the present chairman of the EA is ill-equipped to understand it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Its one thing to be fracking on a known fault line that has Heysham nuclear power station sitting on it but its a whole new level of stupidity to be contaminating over 12 billion gallons of clean water in a country suffering from a drought .
    Thats before they have any leaks.
    And this guy runs the environment agency???


  • rate this

    Comment number 22.


    UK Shale Gas reserves may be 20 Tn/M3, NOAA states between 2.3 and 7.7 percent of fracking gas (methane) escapes into the atmosphere.

    Methane is 21 times more potent then CO2 for Global Warming.

    Total shale gas extraction is equivalent to 18 Bn to 60 Bn tonnes of CO2, thats up to 120 times the UK's current annual carbon production.

    Smith should step down.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    'Environment chief backs fracking'
    Would he back it if it was happening in his back yard?

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    @14.Straight talk - thank you for stating the obvious.

    As you referred to my comment I shall clarify it for you - companies don't want to offer cheaper resources to the public, so why state that fracking will lead to cheaper energy?

    Hence the reason I said "pull the other one".

    If you want to call people children, look at the habitual liars and truth benders, sorry PR people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    We should embrace this technology with open arms. It is not new. They have been using it to recover oil from "spent" wells, and also water from deep aquifers. It is also an essential component for "underground coal gasification" to exploit the 400 years supply of coal currently technically available below the UK

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Stop using all the resource's of this Planet Earth, go find the resource's on those other Planet's and in our solar system.
    Oh don't tell me it will cost too much, look how much it's costing the Earth.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Never, Never mess with forces you don't understand!

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    @14 Profit is a great thing. Earthquakes aren't.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    I also have no problem with the “concept” of fracking.

    However, I do have a problem with the project at Hesketh Bank.
    Hesketh Bank is close to Heysham B nuclear power station;
    Hesketh bank is on the West Coast Main train line that carries nuclear waste trains every day of the week to and from Sellafield.

    Nuclear facilities and earthquakes are not a good mix.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Comments 6. & 4.

    GROW UP CHILDREN - Profit is a good thing - you are quite happy to make a profit from your job, companies make profits and pay salaries & dividends, welfare cheats live off the tax from profits, governments waste money from thier tax profits.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Irrespective of of the issue of fracking, I would expect that the chairman of the Environment Agency to have a science qualification - not a degree in English and a PhD on Coleridge and Wordsworth.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    The tremors are a side-show, what is important is that we cannot afford to commit ourselves to a gas powered future because it will guarantee we miss our emission reduction targets. Moreover studies show that the release of methane fracking involves can result in higher emissions than even coal power.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    As long as we can get the companies to insure against any earthquake/methane damage that results from this jamboree.

    I think they're taking a huge chance with people's lives, homes, the lot.

    And it won't even null the fact that the age of abundance is over. There will never be cheap energy again and the sooner we face up to that the more we might plan for the future.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    are they mad...no just greedy short termist who don't give a damn about the environment or the future generations who will inhabit a barren and bleak planet......what about saving energy and using natural forms of energy, it's not the tory way is it?


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