Government response

Response to Guardian article on fracking

Response from Sir Mark Walport to a claim in the Guardian that his annual report likened fracking risks to thalidomide, tobacco and asbestos.

Sir Marl Walport

We owe it to ourselves and to our policy makers to have a high standard of public debate about the future of our energy supplies. That is one of the reasons that, in my role as chief scientific adviser to the government, I have produced an annual report entitled Innovation: managing risk, not avoiding it. The report is accompanied by a series of evidence papers and case studies, that provide a variety of viewpoints, which are those of the individual authors and expose a wide variety of views. The report itself is deliberately short and accessible.

The Guardian article that linked fracking with thalidomide and asbestos is a florid example of what my report argued most strongly against. It confuses arguments about science with value propositions. It selected one sentence from one evidence paper, quoted it in part, and in doing so misrepresented both the report and indeed the evidence paper itself. This has been picked up in a careless fashion by other news channels and by social media and subjected to a hopefully brief period of amplification. In doing so, the article debased an important discussion about future energy supplies - and, at least as importantly, it devalues science journalism. I am glad however, that the Guardian has allowed me to express my own voice adjacent to the offending piece of journalism.

With regard to fracking, the hydraulic fracturing of shale to obtain natural gas and oil, I fully endorse the report of the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering. Of course methane is a fossil fuel, but as long as it is burned efficiently and fugitive emissions of methane gas are minimised, it is a less harmful fossil fuel than coal and oil, and is an important way-station on the global journey towards low carbon energy. The scientific evidence is clear that any environmental or geological risks can be managed effectively in the UK as long as operational best practices are implemented and enforced through effective regulation.

Published 16 December 2014