Delegates were voting on the first motion to be debated at this week’s three-day event in Bournemouth, proposed by the national executive
It pointed to the absence of any risk-free energy source and to Prospect’s long-standing balnced energy policy, which identifies the need to safeguard security of supply while prioritising low-carbon energy sources.
Mover Garry Graham, national secretary, recognised that fracking is a contentious issue, but said the NEC had consulted branches, individual members and the energy sector.
At one extreme, some argued that fracking “is the silver bullet that will meet the UK’s future energy needs”, while at the other they believed “that no matter what regulatory framework is in place, it represents an environmental and safety hazard that cannot be contained”.
Science and facts
He added: “The truth is seldom pure and rarely simple.” Some were using the issue to gain party political advantage, rather than coolly and calmly appraising the science and facts. While no silver bullet, fracking “may have a contribution to make as part of our energy mix going forward”.
During the transition to low-carbon generation, thermal generation – coal and gas – would continue to play an important part over the next decade.
But any potential support for fracking should be conditional on strong regulation and health and safety, Graham stressed.
Monitoring work by the British Geological Survey must not suffer in the face of a change in ownership or financial restraints, the motion added. Comprehensive training must be provided and resurces and regulation put in place to control legacy risks.
Speaking against the motion, Nick Mole (Intellectual Property Office) said the only risks that really mattered were the additional emissions arising from exploration The motion was “fiddling while Rome burns”.
John Burford (Connect South) said he would like an explanation of what was meant by potential legacy risks, but was not necessarily against the motion.
Elliot Shubert (Natural History Museum) argued that it was time to stop “the addiction to oil and fossil fuels” in the light of the long-standing challenges of climate change.
He was concerned about the serious environmental damage caused by fracking. Shubert, originally from the US, used to live in North Dakota, “where all this started”. It had destroyed agricultural land, meaning cattle could no longer graze and plants could not be grown because of water contamination.
The eastern US now realised the problem. New York had banned fracking and other areas were following suit.
Mary Black (Northern Powergrid) conceded: “Unions have to work with whatever forms of energy are being developed.”
She wished the motion had identified “a need to work with the reality of developments” but felt the phrase “conditional support” went too far, because of the uncertainty and concerns.
Gareth Roberts (Amec Foster Wheeler) felt the motion lacked safeguards and failed to mention the environment. He added: “You don’t have sparsely populated areas in this country.”
In reply, Garry Graham said Prospect was not seeking a green light but an “amber light to proceed with caution”. However, delegates voted by 62% to 38% to reject the motion.