LETTER: MP’s column - We must protect county

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Readers know that the preservation of our beautiful countryside here in Lincolnshire is one of my absolute priorities.

I’ve written in this newspaper about a wide variety of issues we need to be concerned about in Lincolnshire.

This has ranged from the unsightly and unsustainable wind farms to more subtle issues like planning for future development and the potential dangers involved therein. We need to be on guard to protect our way of life, our natural environment, and to ensure that we continue to provide a liveable setting for ordinary working families and individuals.

That is why I have cautioned a prudent approach to development, lest we overload our already stressed infrastructure and overstretch our local resources. There is another issue which I suspect we will be confronted with more and more often in the coming year or so: hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking’. Fracking is the process of using hydraulic drills to dig deep within the earth to gain access to (usually) petroleum or natural gas.

There is a great deal of hyperbole and hype about fracking. Its proponents claim it is a wonder-process that will deliver almost unlimited cheap fuel for consumers and businesses.

Its opponents stress the environment pitfalls and potential for danger. We need to be cautious either way, and when confronted with a complicated issue, it doesn’t help if we are just deciding between two different bandwagons to jump onto.

Fracking is not exactly a new practice, having been first experimented with in 1947. It’s only more recently, as the price of energy has risen, that more research, experimentation, and full-scale development of fracking as been completed. Those who present a more alarmist case will point to cases of fracking resulting in pollution of the water supply and being able to set tap water aflame because of this process. Luckily for us here in Great Britain, most of the trickier aspects of fracking and the most objectionable points of testing it have already been worked out in the United States, where fracking has been taking place on a much wider scale than most other countries.

We need to stop the alarming increase in the cost of energy. Nevertheless, we mustn’t jettison caution and prudence. If fracking has reached a level of development where it is safe for workers, for locals, for the drinking supply, and for the environment, it would be irresponsible to reject it out of hand. But if allowing hydraulic fracturing in our part of Lincolnshire would cause damage to the Wolds, or overload our local roads and other infrastructure, we would be foolish to allow it.

The jury is still out, but I think we should be open-minded about this procedure. Should the taxpayer subsidise it? Definitely not. If there is a case to be made for fracking, private enterprise will invest in it and the resulting returns ought to be passed on to consumers through cheaper energy bills. But we mustn’t fail to protect our environment here in Lincolnshire.

Sir Edward Leigh

MP for Gainsborough