Andy Burnham to call for moratorium on fracking
Labour leadership favourite wants drilling for shale gas to stop until stronger scientific evidence of safety can be provided
Anti-fracking protesters gather near parliament earlier this year.
Anti-fracking protesters gather near parliament earlier this year. Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
Nicholas Watt Chief political correspondent
Friday 5 June 2015 21.00 BST
A moratorium on fracking should be imposed until stronger scientific evidence can show it is safe to drill for shale gas, Andy Burnham, the frontrunner in the Labour leadership contest, is to say.
The former cabinet minister will become the most senior Westminster politician to warn that fracking could pose a danger to communities as licences are “handed out like confetti” on flimsy evidence.
The MP for the Greater Manchester seat of Leigh, who will outline his plans on Saturday at a leadership hustings organised by the Fabian Society, told the Guardian: “I was literally left open-mouthed two years ago when I realised there were about nine licences all over my constituency. Some of them are moving forward.
“These things just seem to be handed out like confetti. That made me really focus on the issue. In my area, we are riddled with mine shafts as a former mining area. Where is the evidence that it is safe to come and frack a place like this? No fracking should go ahead until we have much clearer evidence on the environmental impact.”
Burnham, who praised the Guardian’s Keep it in the Ground climate change campaign, said he believed Westminster should follow the example of the Scottish government, which imposed a moratorium on fracking north of the border. The European parliament will vote next week on a motion to call on EU member states not to authorise new explorations “until it is proven safe for the environment”. Fracking has been banned by New York state.
The shadow health secretary, who argued in the shadow cabinet before the election for Labour to take a harder and more sceptical position on fracking, said the moratorium would be both pro-business and pro-environment by helping to boost the renewable energy sector. The shadow cabinet bowed to trade union pressure to back away from supporting a moratorium but it did force ministers in January to accept new safeguards on the depth of drilling and for more effective environmental impact assessments.
Burnham said he believed the current regime was still flawed and Britain should be promoting the use of renewable energy supplies if it is to meet its carbon commitments on tackling climate change.
“The evidence is very, very flimsy. If we are going to carry on with fossil fuels we are basically sending a message that renewables aren’t where we want to be. I am pitching this as part of a pro-business, new economy move. We have got to get more serious about investment in renewables. The Guardian campaign has got quite a lot of traction and is quite powerful. I have long felt this and have wanted to harden Labour’s stance.”
George Osborne has been leading the charge in Whitehall in favour of fracking, arguing that it will create jobs, reduce energy bills and eventually make the UK less dependent on unstable countries such as Russia for its energy supply. Ministers say communities receive generous compensation, with a payment for each lateral well plus a 1% share of revenues.
Environmental activists have said fracking can cause small earthquakes and pollute water supplies. They argue that it is wrong to turn to a new source of fossil fuels just as Britain should be increasing the use of renewable energy.
Burnham argues that the system for approving licences is highly centralised and calls for communities to be given greater powers to resist fracking.
He said: “How can we justify in this day and age allowing a multinational to frack a local community without their say so? The next step, beyond the moratorium, would be to give local people a much bigger say in whether or not it can proceed. If an organisation could convince a local community that in the end the deal they were putting on the table was beneficial then that is fine. But it can’t be fine without proper consultation.”
He added: “Fracking is one of those issues that gets politics a bad name. It is being driven ahead at speed by people in the Westminster bubble with scant regard for the views of the communities most affected. This is why people are fed up with politics as usual and want change. I will bring that change and put communities first again.”