Environment Agency boss backs fracking and nuclear power
Lord Smith gives guarded support for fracking as he tackles government over green issues
THE HEAD of the Environment Agency, Lord Smith, has given qualified backing to the controversial mining technique known as fracking, which has been blamed for polluting water supplies and causing minor earthquakes.
During an interview on Radio 4's Today programme, the former Labour cabinet minister was asked if he supported the method of extracting gas from rock using high pressure water and chemicals. He replied: "It's a yes, with a big if attached."
He said that the gas had "to be drawn out of the ground effectively and safely" and added that the Environment Agency would want to monitor fracking operations.
Smith also said that while gas was less polluting than coal and oil it was still carbon intensive. "If we are going to have a dash for gas we have to have carbon capture and storage for gas fired power stations," he insisted.
On the plus side, extracting gas by fracking could give the UK energy security, explained Smith, who also revealed that he now supported the idea of nuclear energy. "Twenty years ago I would have said 'over my dead body'," he said. "Climate change has made a realist of many of us and I have to say it has to be part of the mix."
Last month it was confirmed that two minor earthquakes near Blackpool had been triggered by nearby fracking operations run by mining company Cuadrilla (pictured). However, the company estimates there are some 200 trillion cubic feet of shale gas, worth billions, in Lancashire alone.
In America, fracking (short for hydraulic fracturing) has been blamed for contaminating water supplies and even causing tap water to ignite.
But despite anger among environmentalists at his intervention, the Financial Times says that Smith's comments "are not a clearcut endorsement for the practice".
The paper reports that Smith is planning to take on the government over its green credentials in a speech at the RSA tonight.
"The peer will use his first big speech for three years to call for the government to 'acknowledge and respect' that environmental policy is essential and not an optional extra," it reports. "The comments come as the coalition is shedding several green commitments in order to focus on economic growth."