Myth 9 – Fracking is robustly regulated

It seems that politicians on all of many hues have been patting us on the head and telling us that shale gas extraction is quite safe, in spite of emerging evidence from the USA, as long as, or because we have “robust”, “gold standard” regulations here in the UK.

“We announced fracking could resume with robust regulation last December and there is nothing now stopping licensees from bringing on new drilling plans.” – Michael Fallon MP (then Energy Minister)

“Shale gas extraction cannot go ahead unless we have a system of robust regulation and comprehensive inspection.” Tom Greatrex MP, then Labour’s Shadow Energy Minister

“Liberal Democrats in government have introduced the world’s most robust regulatory regime for unconventional gas, including banning drilling in National Parks” – Liberal Democrat 2015 Election Manifesto

“As you are aware, I have been championing a gold standard of regulation surrounding shale gas extraction since shortly after I was elected to parliament.” Mark Menzies MP for the Fylde

When regulatory failings in the USA are raised, shale gas advocates invariably reply that it will be different here because of our strong regulatory framework in the UK and Europe.

Interestingly the University of Durham’s ReFine group commented recently that their survey respondents consider that the assumption that “the risks of fracking are safely manageable assuming ‘operational best practices’ was an example of naive sociology

In September 2015 the emerging VW emissions scandal finally put paid to the idea that businesses can be trusted to self regulate, or that the UK has some sort of magic regulatory wand which makes everything here OK whilst the naughty Yanks get away with murder.

Over the course of the week of 21st September it became clear that VW had “gamed” the results of emissions tests on a huge number of vehicles in the States. The outcry was huge, but the UK auto industry rushed to reassure us that it couldn’t have happened here. Why? Because of our strict laws (aka a robust regulatory system) of course! It was reported on the Tuesday that

“Air quality campaigners have called for the Government to launch an inquiry into whether cars on Britain’s roads also broke the rules, but the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) insisted that cars sold in the UK “must comply with strict European laws”.

Now that sounds like a VERY familiar sort of claim doesn’t it? And exactly what did it prove to be worth? Nothing as the very same day it was revealed that the scandal had spread to Europe and the UK as well . Now what was that about naive sociology? And let’s be clear – this wasn’t just a sin of omission was it? VW would appear to have actively conspired to deceive the regulators.

Just in case you think that the car industry is itself naive rather than just hoping we are, after EU representatives finally agreed a regulation to implement the nitrogen oxide limits with beefed-up road trials and strict monitoring of exhaust fumes to stop the tests being “gamed” earlier this year, the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (Acea) immediately sent European Commission vice president a draft regulation of their own for him to consider, Acea’s draft regulation would have covered fewer pollutants and further delayed the regulation’s phased introduction until 2020.

That is how industry and regulations work I’m afraid. Expressing naive hope that altruism is always (or even sometimes) going to triumph over commercial self-interest in a free market isn’t just stupidity, in the case of our politicians it is a reckless dereliction of their duty. However it is not just a dereliction of duty we face but an active attack

UK Prime Minister David Cameron was quoted in the EU Observer as saying he

offered robust support for European exploitation of shale gas, telling journalists: “No regulation must get in the way.”

You can draw your own conclusions about whose interests he and his government have at heart.