There are no plans to undertake any fracking in Hackney North and Stoke Newington and it's highly unlikely this would ever be possible here given the geography and density of population. However, it's clearly an issue which concerns a number of people here, which is why I think it's worth setting out the four key points we must take into consideration when thinking about fracking.
1. Gas will lower carbon emissions. It is vital that we do not give up on limiting global warming to 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels. The best chance we have of achieving this is by halting the further growth of coal as an energy source globally. Renewable technologies are not going to be able to do this quickly enough, much as we may wish that they could. But as we have seen in the US, gas can knock out coal as a baseload energy source and can result in a dramatic fall in carbon emissions as a result. (US carbon emissions from energy generation have fallen by 450 million tonnes from 2008-2012, according to the International Energy Agency, who put the shift down to a switch to gas away from coal).
Next generation nuclear plants are still some years away and renewables are currently costly and just as locally controversial as fracking for local communities. It is vital that any fracking projects are closely and carefully regulated. Any local risks to water are lower than the risks associated with coal mining. Whilst I hope that in my lifetime we will be able to get the vast majority of our energy from renewable sources, we need a transition plan to get to that point. Gas is a vital transition technology to a renewable energy future and this means that, where locally accepted and environmentally appropriate, fracking has an important role to play.
2. The poor will be worst affected by higher energy prices. The UK is unlikely to see the same level of energy price falls as the US has seen from fracking because the scale of production will be lower. However, I do believe that gas from fracking will help keep UK energy prices lower than they are currently. I won't oppose something that has the potential to reduce carbon emissions and improve living standards whilst keeping energy bills low, therefore helping the poorest in our communities.
3. The UK should not rely on Russian or Middle Eastern energy sources. One of the strongest arguments for renewables is the ability they give us to own and manage our energy and this same argument applies to fracking. Gas from Lancashire or Sussex is our own gas: we can tax it, regulate it and ensure supply meets domestic demand. Negotiating with local councils to secure a fair settlement for any disruption caused is a much more appealing option than going cap in hand to an expansionist Russian President or relying on an ever more unstable Middle East.
4. New technologies and businesses will create jobs. With family in Scotland, I know how cities like Aberdeen - and Dounreay and Thurso before it - have been transformed by the wealth created by new energy sources. We will need to strike a balance in regulating fracking to ensure safety is always first, local communities are compensated for any disruption and that investors are able to offer the best prices to consumers. A large wind farm has a much greater visual impact than a fracking site so it must be possible to find ways of helping to create local prosperity whilst protecting the health and integrity of local communities. It has been striking to me how often the loudest voices in campaigns against fracking are not local communities, but environmental groups who arrive in an area to make their point regardless of local sentiment. Looking at a map of where fracking may be viable, it is clear that many of these are places with lower than average incomes where new jobs and skills will be very welcome.
I’m always wary of charging into any new technology blindly, and I don’t want to see businesses profiting at the expense of local communities, but for the reasons above I think the anti fracking campaign, by ruling out this breakthrough technology’s ability to stop coal, is failing to recognise the urgency of the climate threat. While I can understand its good intentions, I fear that this campaign may in fact damage our environment more in the long term, may reduce my constituents’ living standards, place our country in further debt to unreliable foreign powers and prevent people up and down the country from getting good jobs and learning new skills.