Shale Gas and Oil (EAC Report) — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:08 pm on 4th November 2014.

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Photo of Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach Conservative 7:08 pm, 4th November 2014

My Lords, before we hear the winding-up speeches, and although my name is not on the list of speakers, I would like to make a few brief remarks. Before I do so, like others, I would like to pay tribute to the outstanding chairmanship of my noble friend Lord MacGregor. He was very fair and even-handed—and he was determined, when there was an issue that we were not sure about, to really get to the bottom of it. He was frankly a huge pleasure to work with.

I will make three points. First, I emphasise once again the huge benefits that there potentially are—and not just the benefits of oil and gas coming out of the ground, but the secondary benefits because of falling energy prices. One of the most remarkable things we found in producing the report was the impact on the petrochemical industry in America. There had been no new investment in petrochemicals for 25 years in the US; now, 11 major facilities are under construction and seven are in the planning phase. The reason for this is that production of oil and gas has gone along with the production of products such as ethane, propane, butane and the higher alkalines. In fact, it has been so successful that European producers are reported to be moving their operations to the US.

Secondly, I have found the arguments of those who oppose fracking unconvincing. The reason is that I never felt that they were based on evidence: they were based on opinion. They raise important issues. Fracking involves legitimate concerns, which all of us should be interested in and respect. Fracking involves risks, which we have to manage, and we should not brush them under the carpet. They have been mentioned this evening.

The committee examined each one of them in detail, and our conclusion, which, by and large, is very supportive of fracking, was backed by the best available research from technical experts in the field. We discovered that some of the concerns were not really an issue. On those that were, we discovered that, in the UK, we have a strong, detailed and rigorous regulatory framework through which we can manage those risks.

Thirdly, I have a personal view that does not come out in the report. I have found a great contrast between those giving evidence from the US—from US citizens—and those giving evidence from the countries which make up the United Kingdom. For the US people, the cup was always half full; for too many of our fellow citizens, the cup was half empty. The US people involved in the industry showed an enthusiasm, urgency and intensity which, I have to say, was lacking in colleagues from this country.

The result is that we have a section in the report that refers, in my noble friend Lord Lawson’s phrase, to moving at a snail’s pace. That sums up the problem. The Government have made very clear that they support fracking. However, their intention has become mired in a cautious bureaucracy. There is a great prize to be won, as so many people have said. I think that now, as a matter of urgency, the process of exploration and development must be made quicker, simpler and easier.