What do the Lib Dems really think about fracking?

On September 15th, the Lib Dem conference passed several motions on fracking. They were part of the party’s policy on transition to a zero carbon Britain. The motions on fracking (F10 4m and 4n) committed the party to:

4 (m) Limiting shale gas exploration until it has been shown that:

  • Regulations controlling pollution of water, methane gas emissions, sustainable use of water, monitoring of seismic activity and protecting local environmental quality are adequate and are strictly enforced.
  • Methane emissions are properly monitored and accounted for in the UK’s carbon register so that the legal limits on greenhouse gas emissions in the UK’s carbon budgets are kept to.

4 (n) Further conditions on shale gas exploration including:

  • Planning decisions concerning shale gas extraction remaining with local authorities and local communities being fully consulted over extraction and compensated for any damage to the local landscape.
  • Establishing community benefit arrangements from both shale gas exploration and production, including a ‘right to buy in’ to shale gas projects in the local area.
  • A low carbon transition fund using at least half of the total tax take from shale gas exploration and production to fund strong regulation of shale gas exploration, low carbon innovation, initiatives to tackle fuel poverty and encourage the commercialisation of carbon capture and storage technology.

This sounded worth a story, given that the party’s coalition partner had been promoting fracking throughout the summer. But I needed more information. So I followed the Lib Dem instructions for media inquiries and emailed the press office with some questions. This was the start of a long process of trying to get to grips with what the Lib Dems really think about fracking and how are they propose to deal with it. Read on to find out what happened.

17th September: 1st email
From: Ruth Hayhurst
To: ‘media@libdems.org.uk’
Subject: Conference motion F10 – more detail
I am following up the F10 motion approved at your conference on Sunday. Specifically, I am looking for more detail about proposal 4(m) Limiting shale exploration and 4(n) Further conditions on shale gas exploration.

I should be grateful if you would respond to the following questions:

  • How do you define “adequate” for regulations?
  • How do you define “strictly enforced”?
  • How will methane emissions be properly monitored?
  • Is it the view of the party that methane emissions are not currently being monitored?
  • How does the party define “fully consulted” for local communities? Specifically, how much power does the party think local people should have to influence a decision to frack?
  • How does the party define “local communities”? How close from a drilling rig or well do you have to be to regarded as local?
  • What specific “community benefit arrangements” does the party propose for shale gas exploration and production?
  • Who would benefit from these arrangements and how would they be distributed?

Outcome:  No response 

30th September: 2nd email
From: Ruth Hayhurst 
To: media@libdems.org.uk
Subject: FW: Conference motion F10 – more detail

Dear Lib Dems media team
I sent the email below during your party conference. I appreciate you were very busy at the time. However, I’ve not yet received any response. This is a serious enquiry and it would be great to hear from you. Best wishes, Ruth

Outcome:  No response

8th October: 3rd email
From: Ruth Hayhurst
To: media@libdems.org.uk
Subject: 3rd attempt: Conference motion F10 – more detail please

Hello! Is there anybody there?

No response yet to either of my previous emails but I thought I’d give you one more try before forwarding my questions to my local MP, Norman Baker. I’m sure he will answer because he’s very conscientious but I’m not sure it is a good use of his time.

Seriously, if you can’t or won’t answer my questions you just need to say so. I’m trying to understand the views of the political parties and the Lib Dem conference motion is interesting.

Still in hope, best wishes, Ruth

Outcome:  No response

10th October:  Norman Baker posts on his blog about fracking
He says he’s been assured by Lord Smith, chair of the Environment Agency, that local water sources will be protected from fracking pollutants at Balcombe or elsewhere.

10th October: 4th email
From: Ruth Hayhurst
To: normanbaker1997@gmail.com; media@libdems.org.uk
Subject: Request for more detail on Lib Dem conference motion F10

Dear Mr Baker

I was interested to read your blog post today about protecting water supplies from potential fracking operations in Balcombe and beyond.

I am a freelance journalist based in Sussex and I have been following the issue of hydraulic fracturing and shale gas on a blog. In September I contacted the Lib Dem press office to get some more detail about the motion concerning fracking passed at the party conference. I am sure the team was busy at the time and I have made two more requests since then. As I’ve had no acknowledgement or response to my questions, I wondered if you would be willing to address them instead?

10th October: immediate automated response to say my message had been received

28th October: 1st phone call
I phoned Norman Baker’s constituency office. A member of staff said there was a backlog of correspondence and I may need to wait three weeks for a response.

6th November: Email from David Austin, Norman Baker’s case worker

From: AUSTIN, David
To: Ruth Hayhurst
Subject: Letter from Norman Baker MP

Dear constituent:
Please find attached a letter from Norman Baker MP, regarding your recently contacting his office.
Kind regards,
David Austin | Caseworker for Norman Baker MP (Lewes)  01273 480 281


The letter is as follows:

Dear Ms Hayhurst
Thank you for recently contacting my office regarding policy motion F10 from this year’s autumn Lib Dem conference.
This is just a short note to tell you that, as the policy motion concerns an area outside of my responsibility within the party, namely energy policy, I have written on your behalf to Ed Davey MP, the Lib Dem Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, albeit on a party-political basis, in order to raise your concerns. I will inform you of the reply I receive in due course.
I hope this is helpful.
Yours sincerely

Norman Baker MP

Outome: No response (so far). I’ll let you know when I hear from Ed Davey.



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