Concerns inevitable but regulation will make fracking safe, MPs told
The new environment secretary, Elizabeth Truss, told MPs this afternoon that people could have confidence in fracking because, with proper regulation, it was safe and had a low impact on the environment.
In her first appearance before the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs select committee, Mrs Truss said she wanted people to have the same confidence about fracking as conventional onshore oil and gas operations.
“I appreciate that where there is a technique that has not yet been tried in Britain, people may have concerns”, she said. “It is my job to address these concerns, particularly as regards the environment.”
She said: “It [fracking] is a proven technology. It has been shown to work in other areas. Provided it is carried out in a responsible manner people can have confidence in it.”
When asked if fracking’s opponents were scaremongers (an accusation made by her predecessor, Owen Patterson), Mrs Truss said: “Clearly there are environmental risks but if we have the proper process for checking out the operators, making sure they have environmental expertise, monitoring their operations and it is properly permitted, the risk is extremely low.”
She said the report by the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering should give people confidence. “They are both respected bodies which have shown that, if operated in a responsible manner, fracking has a low environmental impact and is safe”.
Mrs Truss said there was a need to “demystify” fracking. “We need to do a good job in explaining to the public. There can be misinformation out there. It is our job to explain. People need to understand the evidence behind policy”, she said.
In terms of the surface, Mrs Truss said, shale gas looked the same as any onshore oil or gas operation. She said the oil field at Wytch Farm in Dorset was in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and coexisted with local residents, with very few complaints.
Paul Leinster, the Chief Executive of the Environment Agency, who also appeared before the committee, said his organisation would be challenging the industry to recycle waste fracking fluid and reuse it in future operations.
When asked if this was realistic, he said: “This is something we have to look at as the industry develops. We have experience from other countries that it is possible”.
Neither Dr Leinster nor Mrs Truss could answer a question from the committee chair, Anne McIntyre, about the cost of decommissioning a fracking well.
“Is there a ballpark figure?”, Mrs McIntyre asked.
“I don’t have the figure”, said Mrs Truss, but she promised to provide one to the committee.