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Fracking Week in Westminster (June 9th-13th)

June 14th 2014

Transcripts of the last week of parliamentary debates and questions on:

  • The Infrastructure Bill proposals to allow drilling without landowers’ consent
  • The carbon footprint of different energy sources
  • Gas prices
  • Earthquakes
  • Investment in liquified natural gas terminals
  • Government visits to Lancashire

With thanks to theyworkforyou.com

9/6/14

Health debate, House of Commons
Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South, Labour)
I want to refer to my concern about issues caused for my constituents by measures in the Infrastructure Bill to allow fracking or fracking gas exploration under properties without permission or appropriate compensation. The measure will have negative consequences for people with homes, farms or businesses adjacent to fracking gas wells. We have had an exploratory fracking gas well at Barton Moss in my constituency since November 2013. I have heard from businesses adjacent to the site that are losing money as a result and from constituents who have been trying to move but are finding it impossible to sell their homes. I have to tell the Minister that the offer of a £20,000 community payment seems paltry by comparison with the losses that my constituents have already suffered, even during the six-month exploration. The Government seem more concerned about a rush for fracking gas than about the communities affected by the industrialisation of land caused by this process. We must have more caution and more consideration for our communities.

Valerie Vaz (Walsall South, Labour)
My hon. Friend Barbara Keeley is right when she says that the Gracious Speech will allow fracking under people’s homes whether they want it or not. There is no definitive evidence that fracking works. Some 75% of the chemicals used in fracking are toxic and 25% are carcinogenic. There are concerns about its effects on the environment and on public health.

10/6/14

Home Office issues, House of Commons
Jim Dowd (Lewisham West and Penge, Labour)
The infrastructure Bill will contain measures on fracking, and the Government are engaged in a three-month consultation period on that at the moment. There are those who are opposed to fossil fuels, full stop, and who would never accept the case for fracking, even if it were totally safe for the environment and for residents. However, there is always a conflict in which the broader national interest is set against legitimate local concerns. Everyone will be keen to see the results of the Government’s consultation.

David Mowat (Warrington South, Conservative)
The Infrastructure Bill, and the encouragement it gives to the exploitation of unconventional gas, either coal gas or fracking gas, is important in relation to the three tenets of our energy policy—decarbonisation, lower cost and security of supply. We hear a lot about whether we should frack. Is it important that we do so? We talk as though it is an option, as though no one else is fracking.

The world has changed when it comes to fracking. It changed about five years ago when the United States went into the industry at great velocity. That changed our entire energy supply market. It is now a net exporter of energy and gas, as opposed to an importer. That has implications for its foreign policy—what it does in the Gulf of Arabia and all that goes with that—but even more important in terms of how it relates to us is the fact that now its chemical feedstock and electricity costs are one-third of what ours are in the UK. That is a massive competitive change; it is a game-changer. The consequence of that is not necessarily whole businesses immediately moving from here or from Germany to America; it is rather that a new unit or distillation plant in Teesside or the north west will now be built by global companies in America to take advantage of costs that are one-third—not 10%—one third cheaper than ours. We have to address this situation.

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham, Conservative)
I do not know about my hon. Friend’s constituents, but this week alone I have received more than 100 letters from mine who are concerned about fracking. Does he accept that the Government need to do more to convince British people of the need for fracking, and what is his constituents’ perception of fracking?

David Mowat (Warrington South, Conservative)
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I accept that we need to do more to convince people that we need fracking; that is one of the reasons I am making a speech about it. It is a little bit about leadership—if we think something is the right answer, we go with it.

I do not want to say that there are no environmental issues associated with fracking, and of course it is important that we frack in the right areas; there will be some places where we should not frack and some places where we should. All that is true, but it is not a reason to turn our backs on this industry. The case that I am putting to my hon. Friend and to other Members is that the world is already fracking. This week, Germany gave the go-ahead for fracking; it had been reluctant to do that, but did so under pressure from its industry. We need to decide as a country how competitive we wish to be, but one of the vehicles of being competitive is cheap prices for energy and chemical feedstock, and fracking is one of the ways in which those cheap prices will be delivered.

There are three tenets of energy policy, the first of which is decarbonisation. Fracking—or gas, I should say—is an element of any decarbonisation strategy that we seriously wish to pursue. In this country, something like 50% of electricity comes from coal and oil. Replacing that coal and oil with gas is the single quickest and most effective way of reducing our carbon footprint. Indeed, of all the countries in the OECD, the one that reduced its carbon by the most in the last five years is the USA. It has done that because it has reduced its coal expenditure and usage, and instead used gas.

The UK—perhaps slightly counter-culturally—already has one of the lowest amounts of carbon per capita and per unit of GDP in the EU. A strategy based on replacing our coal with gas, and doing so more quickly, would lead to even more progress in that regard.

I have talked a little bit about cost, but it is self-evident that there is a correlation between GDP and energy usage. We cannot rebalance our economy on differentially high energy prices, particularly if we are rebalancing it towards manufacturing, and part of the solution is cheaper gas prices.

It has been said that our having unconventional fracking gas in the UK does not necessarily reduce prices, and to an extent that is true. However, it is rather like saying we should not have exploited North sea gas or oil 30 years ago because there is a world market for North sea oil and we cannot guarantee that lower prices would—

Sammy Wilson (Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury); East Antrim, DUP)
The hon. Gentleman is doing a very good job in answering the question that his colleague, Daniel Kawczynski, put about selling the whole idea of fracking. Does he agree that not only are there environmental benefits to fracking but that when one way to tackle fuel poverty, provide fuel security, make UK industry more competitive and even attract some industries that have gone overseas to come back again is to have our own supply of gas from the fracking gas available to us?

David Mowat (Warrington South, Conservative)
I agree with the hon. Gentleman on all those points, and he made them succinctly and well. Fracking is not something that we can turn our backs on, and I am very pleased that it is in the Queen’s Speech. The point I was making was on the relative cost of energy. I have heard it said in this place that just because we produce fracking gas, that will not necessarily reduce our gas prices by 60% or 70%, to the level they are in America. Of course, there is some truth in that; there is a worldwide market in gas, in the same way that there is in oil.

That said, the gas market is a little bit less mobile than the oil market. The European gas hub, which would be affected by gas prices, is smaller than the global market for crude oil. One of the reasons that we in this country cannot benefit from US gas in the way the US benefits from its gas is that the cost of the US sending it to us would probably double its price; it would still be cheaper, but it would be double the price that we would pay vis-à-vis the US. The summary of all this is that we need to get on with it.

The final point, which was mentioned by Sammy Wilson, is that of security of supply. Whether we like it or not, North sea production is coming down. There may be many things that we can do, either with an independent Scotland or with Scotland within the United Kingdom, to keep that supply going for as long as possible, but gas production in particular is considerably down; it is now something like half what it was at its peak.

Although we in this country have not up till now had to use Russian gas—most of our imported gas has come from Norway—I think I saw a report last month saying that Gazprom and Centrica have signed their first deal, so there is an element in all this of security of supply vis-à-vis the geopolitics of Europe as well.

I hope that the provisions in the Queen’s Speech to make it easier to exploit fracking are proceeded with. What the legislation is really saying is that someone’s property rights do not necessarily extend to stopping people drilling a mile under their house or land. That seems to me as logical as saying that someone’s property rights do not extend to preventing aeroplanes from flying over their land. I believe that that was an issue in the USA at one time, and it had to be legislated away in much the same way as we are legislating here for fracking.

Queen’s Speech debate, 5th day, House of Lords
Lord Hunt of Chesterton (Labour)
Earthquakes are now regularly being caused by fracking. The United States Geological Survey—not a very left-wing organisation—has commented that the number of earthquakes in Oklahoma has increased by 300% at the sixth level on the Richter scale. We should consider this at the United Nations meeting.

11/6/14

Prime Minister’s statement on the G7 meeting in Brussels
Europe has to do two things. First, it must make sure that the trade relationship with Ukraine works properly, that the implications are discussed with Russia and that a successful Ukrainian economy develops. The second and far more long-term issue is the changes to our energy markets in the European Union. We really have to set out a work programme for more investment in liquefied natural gas terminals, more reverse flows between different countries and more action on fracking gas, which is an important natural resource that we ought to be making the most of. Europe will rue the day if it just puts out communiqués and talks about these things, rather than actually doing them.

12/6/14

Written questions, House of Commons
Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry, DUP)
To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change what representations he has received on fracking in 2014.

Michael Fallon (The Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills; Sevenoaks, Conservative)
The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Mr Davey, has received a number of representations on various aspects of hydraulic fracturing.

Mark Hendrick (Preston, Labour)
To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change how many (a) officials and (b) Ministers in his Department have visited Lancashire for purposes related to fracking since 2010.

Michael Fallon (The Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills; Sevenoaks, Conservative)
I and a number of my officials have made a number of visits to Lancashire in relation to fracking gas operations and are regularly in touch with a number of stakeholders in the region.

On 24 April I took part in a conference organised by the North West Energy Taskforce and the two Lancashire Chambers of Commerce in order to highlight to Lancashire business the potential opportunities from successful fracking gas development.

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