Continuing the theme, Are we fit to frack? Here's a post from The Wildlife Trusts' Paul Wilkinson...

Fracking, like many controversial issues, is complicated.  It has the power to polarise opinions. We must therefore seek answers in the evidence, and press strongly for appropriate actions to be taken as a result.

That’s why we have worked closely with the RSPB, and a range of other organisations, to produce a peer-reviewed report on the potential environmental risks, and developed a range of policy recommendations to address them.

Some of the arguments in favour of fracking include the potential economic benefits and its claimed low environmental impact, or its role as part of our transition to a lower carbon future.

However, what this report shows is that this particular basket, into which Government is rapidly throwing its eggs, needs to overcome a number of huge challenges - environmental, social and reputational - if it is to prove its acceptability to the majority of people facing fracking on their doorstep. We share the very serious concerns being expressed by communities across the country, and also recognise the urgency in finding a sustainable way to generate our energy in the future. But, we cannot accept an argument for energy at any cost.

Habitat loss and fragmentation is recognised as one of the most serious threats to wildlife.

Our key concern is around the potential impact on and loss of special wildlife-rich places across England. As an example, 40 well sites built over the next decade could result in a potential habitat loss of 40 hectares in the Bowland Shale region alone. There may be further losses through the construction of associated infrastructure, such as stormwater systems for capturing flowback water, new roads, compressor stations for pumping natural gas and pipelines.

In many cases, local communities have fought long and hard to protect these special places, which include international and national sites, nature reserves and Local Wildlife Sites. 

We expect these to be out of bounds to fracking. They often represent some of the last remaining fragments of what used to be much more extensive wild places.  As a result, we will certainly fight tooth and nail to continue to defend them from further destruction..

The picture is no rosier if we consider the more insidious threats posed by considerable water use.  This is particularly relevant in some of the driest parts of the country where available water for people, let alone the natural environment, is in very short supply at different times of the year and which could, for example, impact on fragile chalk streams.  The figures here are pretty astounding when you consider that the annual production of nine bcm of shale gas would require 1.25 to 1.65 billion litres of water per year.

Then there is the treatment of highly saline and potentially radioactive waste water, the potential risk of groundwater contamination and, to top it all off, the potentially huge contribution that the exploitation of shale gas will make to man-made climate change, one of the biggest threats facing the society, the economy and the natural environment.

All in all, it’s a pretty ominous mix.

The industry can go a long way to dealing with many of these issues, through use of best practice, refinements to the technology, undertaking rigorous assessments of the potential impacts and identifying potential mechanisms to compensate for damage.

But, it is ultimately Government which must ensure that the regulatory framework is fit for purpose.  It must ensure industry pays its fair share for this regulation, and it must ensure any problems which may occur are dealt with urgently.  At the moment, things are falling short.

If the Government doesn’t act now to ensure that the framework is fit for purpose, local communities and the environment are left wide open to avoidable, but potentially significant, risks  and could pay the price for decades to come.