With thanks to Theyworkforyou.com we’ve included extracts about fracking and shale gas from the Queen’s Speech and the first day’s debate that followed in the House of Commons. Click here for more about parliamentary discussions on shale and fracking this week:
Queen’s Speech: extract from the speech
My government will introduce a Bill to bolster investment in infrastructure and reform planning law to improve economic competitiveness. The Bill will enhance the United Kingdom’s energy independence and security by opening up access to shale and geothermal sites and maximising North Sea resources.
Debate on the Address, first day
Caroline Lucas (Brighton Pavilion, Green)
Will the Prime Minister recognise that his plan to strip property owners of their right to refuse permission for fracking under their homes is hugely unpopular? It is opposed by 75% of the population. Will the Prime Minister tell us why he is ignoring not just the public, but the science which shows very clearly that if we are to have any hope of avoiding climate change, we must leave 80% of known fossil fuel reserves in the ground.
David Cameron, The Prime Minister
I think that we should look at the empirical evidence provided by countries around the world, including the United States, where the ability to access shale gas is making energy prices and industry competitive and is helping the economy to grow. Those who are against access to shale gas seem to be claiming that it will somehow be legal to go on to people’s property and frack against their will. That is simply not the case, as the legislation that we are setting out will make extremely clear.
John Redwood (Wokingham, Conservative)
The next thing we need is more domestically supplied energy and cheaper energy. The two go together, felicitously, so if we can get a bigger energy sector extracting oil and gas in Britain—onshore and offshore—we will have more jobs, some of which will be higher-paid jobs, but also access to cheaper energy. I am very pleased that the Government are going to get behind the shale gas revolution. It is already transforming the American economy, creating higher living standards for many and producing the much lower gas prices that are pricing Americans back into competitive jobs in industry vis-à-vis Europe and Asia, where the price of energy is high. We need the same here.
Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham, Conservative)
The proposed change in the planning laws to ease access to land for the process of fracking will prove controversial. I hope the Government will learn a lesson from the experiences of my constituents about to access to land and High Speed 2. It has not been a happy event. HS2 and the Government do not have statutory powers to access private land without the owner’s consent; that will only happen once the hybrid Bill has been approved by Parliament.
Dan Byles (North Warwickshire, Conservative)
On the change in law regarding hydraulic fracturing, may I, as the chairman of the all-party group on unconventional oil and gas, reassure my right hon. Friend that my understanding is that it is simply about access to drill at a depth of greater than 300 metres beneath a property? It should not give any right of access to the property above the surface.
Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham, Conservative)
I am grateful for that clarification. Perhaps I am seeing problems where none exist. However, my message to the Government is that if they are going to engage with landowners about any infrastructure development or fracking, they need to make sure that that engagement is correctly done and appreciated by the people in the communities that will be affected, because that has not been the case with HS2.
Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent North, Labour)
I think the Government are making a huge amount of what seems to have become a dash for fracking—something to be done at all costs. It seems a little like jam today, but do not worry about tomorrow. Deregulation measures are already going through Parliament, and we heard about proposed changes to legislation that will make it easier for developers to be granted access under people’s homes.
I will not mention the climate change aspects of fracking, but given that this measure has been brought forward, I want to know who is looking at the safety implications of fracking and at what seem to be loopholes in existing legislation. In the late ’80s and ’90s I did a huge amount of work because of constituency problems related to mining, especially coal mining, and to mine shafts and coal mining subsidence. We ended up with many homes that were unsaleable. People were desperate because they could not sell their homes, and they were concerned about subsidence. Today, virtually every major conurbation in Britain has mining beneath part of it, and in many cases that is coal mining at depths of less than 50 metres. Mining is not restricted to coal but relates to other minerals all over the country—bath stone and all kinds of different minerals. A statutory remedy enables coal to be mined beneath property without unacceptable concerns to the property owners and mortgage lenders, but who has looked at the potential effect that vibrations and tremors caused by fracking could have on destabilising shallow old workings in an unconsolidated condition, further resulting in collapse, movement and damage to property and services? How can we proceed with fracking without some liability route to protect home owners and provide repair to property?
Robert Syms (Poole, Conservative)
I also appreciate the opportunities that fracking will provide. We have to make things as easy as possible, so that we can get the gas out of the ground, while also ensuring public confidence and that people do not feel that fracking will have an impact on their lives. As I said in an intervention, in Poole we have the Wytch Farm oilfield. In the 1960s and ’70s, when it was developed, there were concerns that it would have a major impact, but no one notices it now. Dorset county council, which dealt with many of the applications, did an excellent job of ensuring screening of the rigs. Occasionally, we see the odd flow off in the harbour, but it is extremely rare. The reality is that people should not be worried about this; it offers a tremendous national opportunity. If, as many hon. Members have said, we are to secure the recovery, use all our national assets and reduce dependency on imported energy, we have to use fracking and to use it as a revolution in the same dynamic way as the United States has done.
David Amess (Southend West, Conservative)
I am sure that if Caroline Lucas, who represents the Green party, was here she would violently disagree with me about fracking, but I am pleased to see measures on it. It seems to be one of the most sensible options for the Britain’s future energy supply, being both cleaner and more environmentally friendly than other fossil fuels, providing massive potential for investment. I have been told by one of the lobbyists that there may be an opportunity to amend the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000, of which I was the promoter, which will help to underpin what we are trying to do on warm homes.
The infrastructure Bill, which has already been mentioned by many colleagues, is absolutely essential if we are to get investment, particularly in energy, although it is about more than energy. We face a massive investment challenge on the energy side if we are to close the gap in capacity and keep the lights on. The issue of shale gas has been mentioned several times. The shale gas debate continues to suffer from the problem of people trying to portray it in terms of competing extremes. In fact, it is a lot simpler than many people wish it to be. It is not about whether the UK uses more gas. We will be using gas for decades to come: 83% of our homes are heated by gas, while 70% to 75% of our electricity comes from gas and coal. Even a speedy expansion of renewable energy will take a long time to eat into that fossil fuel use, and we should start by displacing the coal, not the gas.
The shale gas argument is not about whether we should use gas but simply about from where we get the gas. Importing it has a larger emission footprint—the Committee on Climate Change has said that imported liquefied natural gas is likely to have a higher life-cycle emission footprint than domestic shale gas—and creates no jobs and no tax revenue for the Exchequer. Alternatively, we can use the domestic gas that the Royal Society, the Royal Academy of Engineers and Public Health England have all said can be produced safely as long as that is properly regulated. That will create jobs—up to 64,000 according Ernst and Young and up to 74,000 according to the Institute of Directors—and produce tax revenue for the country that can be spent on public services. In 2011, PricewaterhouseCoopers estimated that more than 16% of Government corporate tax receipts came from the oil and gas sector. It is easy for people to turn their noses up at oil and gas, but it pays for our schools and our hospitals.