Fracking fears for wildlife
The debate over fracking for shale gas has taken over the environmental agenda in the past two weeks and voices on both sides are getting more and more shrill by the day. You can learn more about our position here.
RSPB submitted its first objections to two fracking sites last week and signed a joint statement with other environment NGOs in the Sunday Times. Our position led to coverage across broadcast and print media over the weekend and has caused debate amongst some of our members and supporters. So it’s worth examining the reasons we have voiced our concern now.
We don’t have any objection to new technology being used to help us produce energy – this is an exciting and important area of research. However we have, and always will, oppose individual developments in our countryside which have the potential to harm wildlife, be it a wind farm, a drilling well, a road or an airport.
Fracking at Singleton in Lancashire – where Cuadrilla have proposed a well – may not disturb the thousands of wintering pink footed geese and whooper swans which arrive nearby each Autumn. It may not pollute water sources and it may not lead to us overshooting our climate targets.
But the unquestionable fact is that we just don’t know. This is untested technology in the UK – a very different prospect to the US where fracking is now widespread. Developers do not need to fully investigate the impact drilling will have on the local environment. And the Government has not explained how extracting more fossil fuel from the ground will help us meet our climate targets.
These are the central questions we are raising. But this debate is really another example of a deeper, underlying challenge our environment faces in the UK.
The choice between renewed backing of fossil fuel extraction in the UK or continuing the transition to low carbon, renewable energy is a fundamental one. Too often, however, the currency of the debate is money.
The Prime Minister recently talked about how “we cannot afford to miss out” on the benefits of fracking, for example, whilst the Environment Minister Owen Paterson talked of shale as a ‘god-given’ windfall. Fracking opponents often take a similarly human-centric approach, arguing about house prices and aesthetics.
These are important considerations, but their dominance in Government’s thinking is a reflection of how disconnected politics has become from our natural environment. It has been argued that our dire economic straits make cashing in on our natural resources necessary, but recession is not an excuse to shed our values. The biggest single piece of wildlife protection legislation in this country was developed during the Second World War, yet today’s leaders appear to be clambering over themselves to reel in environmental progress at the mere whiff of economic benefit.
Over in the ‘desolate’ North, along the banks of the Ribble, there remains a richness of wildlife that could inspire even the most urbanite Southern peer. In the spring and summer, you can see waders like avocets, redshank and godwit roaming the mudflats and wetlands. In autumn, hundreds of thousands of pink-footed geese arrive from as far as Siberia, providing an awesome wildlife spectacle. If you pay a visit, be sure to pop into Hesketh Out Marsh, one of our reserves in the area where you can see all this and more. It is our job as the RSPB to protect these special places, for wildlife, for people and for future generations.
We are here to defend nature when it is under threat, whatever that threat may be. Without any reliable evidence that fracking is not a threat we will continue to do everything we can to stop it in its tracks.
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