12 December 2013

GUEST POST: Labour is in as deep as the shale

This is a guest blog post by Phil Mitchell, Blackpool Green Party and one of the first anti-fracking voices in the North West

Labour councillor Gail Hodson gave an emotional speech at the Barton Moss fracking protest last Sunday, calling on Labour to "get off the fence", and oppose fracking.. Another speaker gave the crowd what was perhaps, an even more emotional plea: "get off your arse and show my children there's a future"[1].

The Green Party has been vociferously opposing fracking since it first appeared in the news three years ago [2], so what has Labour been doing?

First of all, it was a Labour government that invited Barton frackers Igas, amongst others, into the country, granting 93 onshore licenses in May 2008[3].

Coincidentally, the Chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party at that time was Stretford MP Tony Lloyd[4], the Greater Manchester Police and Crime Commissioner now responsible for the criticised policing of the protest.

Whilst Green Party candidates promised a million genuinely green jobs in the 2010 General Election[5], Labour MPs like Mr Lloyd gave no inkling of their party's plans to frack the North West[6].

It was Oldham MP and former Environment Minister, Michael Meacher who gave us Labour's first glimmer of hope, supporting Green Party MP Caroline Lucas' 2011 Parliamentary motion for a halt[7], and championing an independent report showing that renewable energy would best meet EU needs[8].

In Councillor Hodson's eyes, that glimmer of hope is still alive, so what are Labour saying now, three years later?

Official Labour policy says that we should not rule it out, "so long as it can be done safely"[9], a statement that could equally apply to playing 'Russian roulette'.

Reports such as the recent Public Health England study claiming "properly regulated" fracking poses a low risk to health[10], only encourages those who prefer either to remain on their 'arses', or to simply ignore the fact that it is an incomplete 'preliminary' report, based on limited evidence.

Drilling through the North West's Pennine-filtered fresh water, bringing up volatile radioactive waste commonly laced with genotoxic chromium [11] and benzene - carcinogenic below detectable levels[12], should never be what the doctor orders for our children's future.

And adding yet another fossil fuel, without viable Carbon capture and storage anywhere in sight[13], just makes Labour's climate targets look like dangerous pie in the sky.

Meanwhile, evidence that renewable energy can provide all our energy continues to grow, along with solutions to the climate crisis coming from organisations as diverse as the Welsh-based Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) [14] to the International Energy Agency[15], often seen as the mouthpiece for big oil companies.

Yet, whilst the case for fracking has crumbled, Labour's resolve to gamble with our childrens' futures has hardened.

Answering questions on fracking at the Labour Autumn Conference in Brighton this year, Ed Milliband said: "You've got to use all the fuels at your disposal"[16], and, speaking of her policies, Shadow Energy Minister Caroline Flint bellowed exhuberantly: "We'll share the risks"[17].

Russian roulette for the masses.

I hope Councillor Hodson succeeds, but the Green Party offers a clearer future for our children.

[1] http://www.salfordstar.com/article.asp?id=2066

[2] http://bridgendgreens.wordpress.com/2011/02/28/cardiff-conference-backs-the-bridgend-greens-anti-fracking-campaign-with-an-emergency-motion/

[3] http://www.bdb-law.co.uk/our-insights/publications/articles/getting-to-grips-with-shale-gas

[4] http://www.gmpcc.org.uk/about/who-we-are/the-police-and-crime-commissioner/biography/

[5] http://greenparty.org.uk/policies/policies-2010/2010manifesto-economy.html

[6] The labour Party manifesto 2010 - a future fair for all.

[7] http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2010-12/2292


[9] http://hyndburn-labour.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/labours-position-on-fracking-following.html

[10] http://www.bmj.com/content/347/bmj.f6626

[11] http://ec.europa.eu/health/scientific_committees/opinions_layman/en/electromagnetic-fields/glossary/ghi/iarc-classification.htm

[12] Recommendations from the Scientific Committee on Occupational Exposure Limits for Benzene SCOEL/SUM/140 December 1991 European Commission: "no level of exposure can be determined below which there is no risk to health"

[13] Shale gas: an updated assessment of environmental and climate change impacts. Broderick et al. November 2011 Tyndall Centre, University of Manchester

[14] Zero Carbon Britain: Rethinking the Future (2013) Download at: http://www.zerocarbonbritain.org/

[15] Redrawing the Energy-Climate Map, IEA 2013 http://www.worldenergyoutlook.org/energyclimatemap/

[16] Labour Party Autumn Conference Ed Milliband's Q&A session, 25th September 2013

[17] http://press.labour.org.uk/post/62143827565/caroline-flint-mps-speech-to-labour-party-annual

Caroloine Flint says: "And I say to every nation in our great country, we invest in energy together, we share the risks, we share the rewards".

Other evidence of Labour's commitment to fracking:

1. Labour's "six conditions" are themselves risky.

Labour's introductory comments includes: "there are important regulatory questions which must be answered before large scale extraction can begin." ie there is little concern about getting the 'right' regulatory and monitoring framework before large-scale extraction, and Caroline Flint has said on Radio Lancashire (May 2013) that safety was NOT the key, that fracking needs to go ahead until more is known about the "costs, and that includes the community costs"

2. Labour try to present themselves as promoting "clean energy" despite:

having clear views that nuclear (with waste disposal questions unanswered) and fracking should be energy mix options.

Caroline Flint's conference speech: "We must invest in 'low carbon energy' that will power our country for a new industrial age", not zero carbon, but new technologies that don't exclude fracking - which will industrialise the countryside.

3. Labour wants to keep gas for decades:

Caroline Flint speaking on Sunday Politics (October 2013) said Labour's commitment is only to decarbonise the electricity supply, not the power sources. She said we will "need gas for decades to come".

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