Farmland(c) REX/FLPA / Allen Lloyd

A group of MPs has called for a moratorium on shale gas fracking in the UK amid fears it is “incompatible” with targets to fight climate change and could affect farming.

Ministers are keen to fast-track shale gas drilling to replace ageing North Sea gas fields and reduce the country’s reliance on gas imports.

Farmers fear possible direct and indirect effects of shale gas exploration and production, including a depreciation of their land, disruption to farming productivity and potential consequences for livestock health.

“A moratorium on the extraction of unconventional gas through fracking is needed to avoid both the inconsistency with our climate change obligations and to allow the uncertainty surrounding environmental risks to be fully resolved.”
EAC report

See also: CLA claims victory over fracking liability

The CLA has previously called on MPs to urge the government to provide private landowners with clarity over fracking concerns. 

The organisation, which represents some 33,000 landowners, farmers and rural businesses, said landowners must be protected from liability claims relating to damage to the environment caused by the process.

A report published by members of the cross-party Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) of MPs on Monday (26 January) warns fracking could pose “significant localised environmental risks to public health”.

“A moratorium on the extraction of unconventional gas through fracking is needed to avoid both the inconsistency with our climate change obligations and to allow the uncertainty surrounding environmental risks to be fully resolved,” said the report.

The committee is also calling for changes to the Infrastructure Bill, currently going through Westminster.

Proposed changes to trespass law would grant companies automatic right of access to land at depth. But the committee said this proposal should be removed from the bill because it would “seriously undermine citizens’ rights” and it was “not supported by the public”.

At the very least, the EAC’s report concludes, fracking should be prohibited in nationally important areas such as national parks, the Broads, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Sites of Special Scientific Interest and ancient woodland.

The EAC’s report was published to coincide with a third reading of the Infrastructure Bill, due to be debated in the House of Commons on Monday (26 January).

But a spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change said: “We disagree with the conclusion of this report. We have one of the most robust regulatory regimes for shale gas.

“UK shale development is compatible with our goal to cut greenhouse gas emissions and does not detract from our support for renewables – in fact, it could support development of intermittent renewables.”

NFU Mutual clarifies stance on fracking

Meanwhile, rural insurer NFU Mutual has dismissed suggestions on social media websites that its policies would not cover farmers if their buildings were damaged by the fracking activities of a third party.

The company has inserted a new exclusion to farmers’ insurance policies under Environmental Liability, which states: “We will not pay for liability arising out of any activity involving prospecting, extraction or refining of liquid or gaseous fuel. An example of which is ‘fracking’.”

But Tim Price, NFU Mutual rural affairs spokesman, explained: “If a farmer decides to have a go at fracking in any way, our farm policy would not offer liability cover.

“However, people who insure their homes and businesses with us and are not commercially involved with fracking on their land are protected in the event of an earthquake or subsidence caused by fracking.”