The English Wildlife Trusts announced earlier this year that they opposed fracking. The Trusts said this was because they believed that shale gas extraction undermined UK efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and tackle climate change. In this guest post, Alan Wright, of the Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside, describes how evidence on the environmental impact of fracking contributed to the decision.
Since hydraulic fracturing to extract shale gas was first considered on the Fylde region inland from Blackpool, the Lancashire Wildlife Trust has contacted fracking companies asking them questions about the process.
We have opposed every planning application by Cuadrilla for fracking in our region to date and given our views when Lancashire County Council came out against the process.
Over this period, we have gathered knowledge of what is involved and why there are fears that fracking will not be good for our region’s wildlife.
If a plan by Aurora Resources to frack near Great Altcar in West Lancashire leads to major development, it would be likely to have an impact on internationally-important overwintering flocks of geese and swans, and populations of water vole. We will do all we can to protect these species and our nearby Lunt Meadows nature reserve.
Our knowledge in Lancashire has been fed into reviews at a national level, which have been ongoing since the production of the Fit to Frack report in 2014. As a result, the Wildlife Trusts announced:
“The English Wildlife Trusts believe the extraction of shale gas undermines UK efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and tackle climate change. New evidence from the Climate Change Committee indicates that methane sourced by fracking will be in addition to existing emissions rather than substituting for them. In addition, shale gas extraction often results in fugitive methane emissions, i.e. methane that is leaked directly into the air.
“The extraction of shale gas by hydraulic fracturing presents a number of additional environmental risks to wildlife and society. Impacts on the environment are not well understood but they could be potentially significant and existing environmental regulation seems to be inadequate to manage these risks.”
The Wildlife Trusts are particularly concerned about the impacts on habitats, species and ecosystems because of:
- Reduction in water quality (surface and ground water contamination) and quantity (water stress and availability);
- Cumulative impacts of disturbance, damage, loss and fragmentation at the landscape level.
Commercial extraction of shale gas involves establishing many drill sites and pads dotted across the landscape. This large area, and the associated construction infrastructure, is likely to have a significant impact on landscape fragmentation and direct impacts on many sites that are rich in wildlife.
The Wildlife Trusts made a series of recommendations to minimise the potential risks associated with hydraulic fracturing. These include ensuring all proposals for shale gas extraction go through the full planning process. All proposals should be subject to stringent tests for air and water quality, disclosure of chemicals used and the risks of potentially contaminated waste water being discharged into the sea. Future tests will be sought for long-term carbon emissions from sites and how abandoned wells are maintained.
The Wildlife Trusts believe planning consent should be refused for shale gas extraction in protected sites or where operations would pose a significant direct or in-combination impact to wildlife, habitats or ecosystems or where the potential risk of environmental damage is high, regardless of mitigation.
With climate change presenting a significant and serious long-term threat to biodiversity and societies worldwide, The Wildlife Trusts believe that there should be a reduction in dependency on fossil fuels and Government funding should be prioritised on the development and implementation of renewable technologies.
The Trusts have also stressed the importance of restoring ecosystems, such as peatlands, something the Lancashire Wildlife Trust continues to address on our mosses at Astley, Cadishead, Little Woolden, Highfield, Winmarleigh and Heysham.
This Guest Post is adapted from an article first published in Lapwing, the magazine of the The Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside, on 1 April 2018.