Recent developments on fracking demonstrate very clearly to me why Labour’s approach to politics and action on the environment is better than that of the Greens.
The government’s proposed legislation on fracking recently debated in parliament framed it as a positive industry which would boost the economy and provide cheaper fuel and energy independence. Had the legislation gone ahead as originally framed, we would be full steam ahead with light regulation and tax incentives in the hope that mass fracking would transform the economy as it has allegedly done in the USA.
The truth is that fracking does not have the same potential here as in the USA. The costs of extraction are much higher which means that it would be unlikely to generate cheaper gas bills, and it wouldn’t produce enough volume of gas to secure energy independence. The reason why the increased use of fracked fuel has has such a positive impact on carbon reduction in the USA is because America’s carbon footprint is so much higher than here in Europe in the first place.
Caroline Lucas and other backbench MPs proposed an amendment that called for a moratorium on fracking. The accusation against Labour is that if Labour had backed this amendment, we could have stopped fracking entirely. But this is not the case. Labour is outnumbered in the House of Commons by coalition MPs. If Labour had supported this amendment, it would have fallen anyway because Labour (or Labour plus the Green) is in a minority.
The only way to influence the government’s fracking bill was to put forward amendments which would be supported not only by opposition MPs but by enough Conservative and Lib Dem MPs as well for it to be voted through. This was Labour’s strategy, and working with cross party MPs they developed a series of amendments that have considerably beefed up the regulatory requirements. The rules make the costs and timescales for fracking a lot less attractive and therefore limit the future of the industry considerably. For examples, sites have to be monitored for a year before any fracking starts so that it can be proved that the fracking is not causing any pollution. This in itself will slow the development of new sites, and the hoops operators need to jump through in terms of local consent will take many sites out of the running entirely. In addition, the amendments prohibit any fracking under National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
For anyone who is not keen on fracking, this is good news. But the story I hear reflected back on the doorstep is only negative about Labour and fracking. We should have backed the moratorium, the logic goes, thus proving we are against fracking. But we couldn’t have backed a moratorium and the other amendments as well. In other words we did what we could to influence events, and we succeeded at that.
Caroline Lucas got arrested at an anti-fracking demonstration and condemns fracking strongly. However, as a parliamentarian, her actions did nothing to curtail the development of the industry. Despite her strong point of view, or perhaps because of it, she has achieved less on fracking than Labour has.
There’s quite a good summary of where the bill is at here.