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 169.

    Fracking in the US has already caused, almost entirely beyond doubt, huge contamination of people's water supplies. People are able to set the water that comes from their taps on fire due to the amount of gas present. Fracking is an environmental disaster, how can the head of the Environmental Agency support it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 168.

    Check this 'Lord's' bank account for back handers or if he has recently become a non-exec director of any energy companies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 167.

    'Environment chief backs fracking'

    That is because he doesn't have the qualifications to know what, on Earth, he is talking about.

    Has he never heard of the 'Precautionary Principle' (to err on the side of safety)?

  • rate this

    Comment number 166.

    152. Ticky - I'm never surprised when a politician is caught lying but I am surprised that so many people on here seem to believe Smith and that I can find evidence to disprove him on his own organisation's website. Anyway this'll soon drop off the BBC front page as it goes beyond the Sun reader's or tree-hugger's comprehension.

  • rate this

    Comment number 165.

    "Gabriel Oaks"

    Someone who is does not understand the difference between nuclear FUSION and nuclear FISSION.

  • rate this

    Comment number 164.

    111 milvusvestal

    Extracting oil (or gas) will not upset the equilibrium and weaken the crust. Water simply replaces the extracted oil and fills the 'vacant' pore spaces. The reverse happened thousands/millions of years ago when the more buoyant oil displaced the original pore water (google 'Hydrocarbon Migration').

    If anything 'upsets' the earth's crust it's plate tectonics!

  • rate this

    Comment number 163.

    I wonder how much lobbying this took..? How convenient that something so blatantly bad for the planet has been backed and deemed as risk adverse. Justification and the truth mean nothing anymore...

  • rate this

    Comment number 162.

    There are plenty of alternatives, namely tidal barrages, hydroelectric, and nuclear.

  • rate this

    Comment number 161.

    I support fracking and the burning of fossil fuels.I burn petrol and the rest of the world is burning fossil fuels so we should`nt kid ourselves thinking closing a power station or not fracking for gas will mean we save the world.
    We need GM food and nuclear power,we need to invest in science and technology or we become nothing,india and china will rule the world at our expense in we don`t.

  • rate this

    Comment number 160.

    156 TonyB - I concur, I also don't understand the argument that they destroy the countryside; I think they look sleak and modern. My only problem with them is that they're not a particularly efficient, reliable or cost-effective way of producing electricity, which I suppose is the bigger issue!

  • rate this

    Comment number 159.


  • rate this

    Comment number 158.

    The problem with ideas like this is no longer about right and wrong , it's only about money and growth . People say the sky is the limit , I've seen our planet from the moon in some photos and realised , We have reached the sky , how high can we go , . What's in ut for our future generations , we as a species has taken the limits of our planet a bit to far . We turning the planet inside out. :(

  • rate this

    Comment number 157.

    144:BluesBerry:The US govt. investigated people involved in the anti-nuclear movement in the 70's too.

    149:Skifreak:I grew up near where the US enriches the uranium for all its power plants. Almost everyone there dies of cancer. So nuclear's not a good choice either.

  • rate this

    Comment number 156.

    @143. Nakor

    I fully agree - and this kind of comment (36) makes me sick - it's the main reason why there isn't an intelligent argument taking place about the viability of wind energy.

    Wind is a big fail - not because turbines are noisy or kill birds, but because the facts and figures show that they they do not effectively contribute towards CO2 reductions. So what's the point in them?

  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    36. bunchofhypocrites
    -Wind Turbines: "They cause enormous health problems to residents with a 2km radius".

    14 Minutes ago
    -Really? How and where did you get this gem from?

    Probably a poster at Donald Trumps golf course :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 154.

    130 Eddy from Waring - Wow, who gave you that stat? If you truly believe it, I have some magic beans that I could sell you.

    Lying like that only strengthens the pro-nuclear case. In a 2007 BBC article, it stated that 700,000 people per year just in China die prematurely from the effects of smog. Even using the worst estimates, that's more per 8 weeks than Chernobyl caused globally in 25 years.

  • rate this

    Comment number 153.

    Briot, the problem is that the "appropriate safeguards" are being side-stepped for the sake of profit.

    There's 13,000 ZJ of geothermal energy available. The world currently requires about 0.5 ZJ per year.

    And a massive vested interest in depleting fossil fuels in order that our grand children don't have any and instead inherit a world that's been fracked.

  • rate this

    Comment number 152.

    148 wierdfish, you appear suprised? Welcome to Britain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 151.

    I'm on the fence with the fracking debate but surely the environment agency should oppose it,the harm it causes is debatable but it certainly isnt beneficial to the environment

  • rate this

    Comment number 150.

    Shale rock in which the gas is trapped is so tight, has to be broken. Therein come the problems. Combination of sand, water - laced with chemicals (including benzene) - is pumped into the well bore at high pressure, shattering rock, opening fissures, enabling the shale gas to seep into the pipeline. Process floods shale formation with millions of gallons of toxic fluids.


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