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Fracking Week in Westminster (14th-18th July)

20th July 2014

A transcript of this week’s parliamentary questions and statements on:

  • Quantities of gas in the Bowland shale
  • Shale gas and economic competitiveness
  • Cabinet committee on development of shale gas
  • Water treatment works capable of processing flow-back fluid
  • Methane concentrations in ground water
  • Costs to local authorities of processing Environmental Impact Assessments for unconventional oil/gas plans

With thanks to TheyWorkdForYou.com

14th July 2014

Tom Greatrex (Shadow Minister (Energy); Rutherglen and Hamilton West, Labour)
To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change what assessment he has made of the quantity of shale gas in the Bowland reserve that is located

(a) above and

(b) below

a depth of one kilometre from the surface.

Michael Fallon (The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change;Sevenoaks, Conservative)
DECC has published a study estimating the gas resources of the Bowland shale accessible at:

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/226874/BGS_DECC_BowlandShale GasReport_MAIN_REPORT.pdf

This estimates gas resources at depths of 5,000 ft (approx. 1.5 km) and greater. The report does not consider it likely that any gas resource which might be found at shallower depths could be commercially viable to extract with current technology.

No estimate has been made of shale gas reserves, that is, the proportion of the estimated resource that might be technically and economically producible.

16th July 2014

Questions to the Prime Minister
Stephen O’Brien (Eddisbury, Conservative)
Given the north-west’s and Cheshire’s proud history of contributing significantly to our national economy, does my right hon. Friend acknowledge the importance of the rapid and safe development of fracking to boosting the competitiveness of our country and to ensuring that the north-west and Cheshire continue to be a significant contributor to our wealth and welfare?

David Cameron
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. It is good news that, in the north-west, we have seen the claimant count in his constituency come down by 40% in the past year. If we want to sustain the increase in employment and sustain our economic growth, however, we should not hold ourselves back from new sources of energy, including unconventional gas. It is striking that the United States has something like 100,000 unconventional gas wells, whereas there are only about 100 in the whole of Europe. We have about three quarters as much unconventional gas across the EU as there is in America, and I do not want us to miss out on this. It could help to deliver more competitive energy prices, it will help to keep our economy and our industry competitive, and I think it is vital for the future of our country.

House of Lords debate on the Finance Bill
Lord Lawson of Blaby
It is very important that there is a change in our energy policy in the short term, but also in the medium term. Government talks the right talk about developing our indigenous supplies of shale gas, which will be a great help to the British economy in the medium term—although obviously not in the short term—but it is just talk. The most recent report of the Economic Affairs Committee, which as I say is so brilliantly chaired by my noble friend Lord MacGregor, was on this very subject. We pointed out that the regulatory regime is in a mess in this country and inhibits the development of shale. That is not because it is too strict—we need a strict regulatory regime—but because it is too cumbersome, involves too many departments that do not co-ordinate and too many agencies. It takes far too long. We produced a unanimous report.

We have now had a reply from DECC, which is the most complacent reply I have ever seen from any government department, and that is saying something. It says that everything is all right and that none of our recommendations is necessary. The department seems not to be aware of the evidence, including the fact that even now not a single exploratory well has been drilled. We had evidence from Cuadrilla, the most prominent of the companies operating, that, even if there is no judicial review of planning, it takes three years from first preparing the environmental impact assessment to being able to drill. That is ludicrous compared with what has happened so successfully in the United States. The response completely ignores the evidence that we had from Chris Wright, the father of shale gas in the United States and a great Anglophile. He said that he would love to invest in this country but, on the present basis, there is no way that it would make sense for him to do that.

I say to the Minister that there is one easy thing that he could do straightaway. The present Government have Cabinet committees on a whole range of trivial matters—one would find it hard to believe—but there is no Cabinet committee on something as important as the extraction of our shale resources. Because of all the departments and agencies involved—the Environment Agency and lots of others—it is absolutely essential to have a Cabinet committee to bring everything together, and we recommended that such a committee should be chaired by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Lord Deighton (Conservative)
I will certainly take on board with respect to shale and getting that whole industry moving whether the way the Government are looking at that is sufficiently focused and driven. At the moment, it is managed through the growth implementation committee, which the Chancellor chairs, but it is of course one of a wide number of topics. I have discussed with industry participants how we should follow through on that.

17th July 2014

Environment questions
Tom Greatrex (Shadow Minister (Energy); Rutherglen and Hamilton West, Labour)
To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment she has made of the number of water treatment facilities in the UK capable of processing waste water from shale gas extraction; and what the

(a) name,

(b) location and

(c) capacity is of each such site.

Dan Rogerson (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; North Cornwall, Liberal Democrat)
There are a large number of waste treatment facilities across the UK that could potentially treat flow-back fluid, including water produced from shale exploration and hydraulic fracturing, subject to holding the relevant permits.

Currently, in England there are three facilities with permits that would allow for the treatment of such waste water:

  • Castle Environmental in Stoke-on-Trent;
  • FCC Environment at Knostrop in Leeds; and
  • Bran Sands in Middlesbrough (owned by Northumbrian Water).

DEFRA does not hold information on the treatment capacity of these facilities.

Tom Greatrex (Shadow Minister (Energy); Rutherglen and Hamilton West, Labour)
To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what estimate she has made of the concentration of methane in groundwater in mg/l in:

(a) the UK,

(b) Scotland,

(c) England,

(d) Wales and

(e) Northern Ireland.

Dan Rogerson (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; North Cornwall, Liberal Democrat)
The British Geological Survey (BGS) is surveying the current distribution of methane concentrations in UK groundwater, focusing on areas where aquifers are underlain by shale units that may be exploited for shale gas. The BGS website provides a summary of the methane baseline results up to April 2014 and links to regional summaries:

http://www.bgs.ac.uk/research/groundwater/shaleGas/methaneBaseline/results.html

Depending on the geology of a particular site and the pre-existing data available, the environmental regulator (the Environment Agency in England) could also require such monitoring by the operator before a site became operational.

Local government questions
Tom Greatrex (Shadow Minister (Energy); Rutherglen and Hamilton West, Labour)
To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what assessment he has made of the cost to a local authority of processing an environmental impact assessment for unconventional oil and gas extraction.

Brandon Lewis (Minister of State (Communities and Local Government); Great Yarmouth, Conservative)
Our expectation is that the costs to minerals planning authorities of processing an environmental impact assessment linked to a planning application for unconventional oil or gas extraction will be broadly comparable to those already incurred in respect of conventional oil and gas extraction applications.

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