Opposition

MPs warn ministers to improve fracking regulation, as Infrastructure Bill gets 2nd reading

A Lancashire Conservative MP said this evening he was unable to support the Government’s Infrastructure Bill because of its clauses on fracking. A second threatened to oppose the bill later on in its passage unless shale gas regulations were strengthened.

The Bill, which includes clauses that would allow oil and gas companies to drill below 300m without the consent of landowners, received its second reading in the House of Commons after more than six hours of debate. Ten MPs voted against the Bill proceeding, including the Conservative MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood, Eric Ollerenshaw.

A Labour amendment which would have sent the legislation back to the House of Lords was defeated by 293 votes to 199. The Bill now moves to a line-by-line discussion in the committee stage.

Bill won’t win over Lancashire constituents

Mr Ollerenshaw told the debate that he had no ideological opposition to shale. But he criticised the clauses in the Bill on fracking. “I will not be able to support this part of the bill”, he said.

“I don’t honestly believe that putting these kinds of clauses in this complicated bill will in anyway win anybody over in my part of Lancashire that their concerns are being dealt with effectively.”

He said the industry would cause disruption. “Ministers should have come forward with much more definite answers in terms of what are the returns for people in Lancashire putting up with this new industry”.

The Conservative MP for nearby Fylde, Mark Menzies, has two planning applications for fracking by the gas company, Cuadrilla, in his constituency. He said he would vote for the second reading but he warned the government:

“If we are unable in committee stage to really improve the regulation and if I don’t get assurances about how that regulatory regime will be enforced then I will be unable to support the bill as it makes further progress.”

“The caveat of my support has always been to make sure that the regulation is robust and this can be done safely. And if that cannot be done safely then we cannot do it at all.”

He called for unannounced inspections of shale gas sites and urged the Labour Party not to turn the issue of fracking into a “political football”. The oil and gas licences in Fylde were sold when Labour was in government. It was beholden on Labour to ensure that the regulations were in place, he said.

Encouragement for exploration

The transport minister, John Hayes, who opened the debate, said the Infrastructure Bill would encourage shale gas exploration.

He said it would not “erode in any way the strength of our regulatory regime, the effectiveness of which has been demonstrated over 50 years of development, which is one of the strictest and safest in the world”

But several MPs questioned whether the regulations were strong enough to make the industry safe.

The shadow transport minister, Richard Burden, said Labour would table amendments that would, he said, “close a number of loopholes in the existing regulatory framework”.

The Conservative, Nick Herbert, said environmental concerns needed “to be addressed by means of proper regulation and controls, and we should discuss the importance of ensuring that they are adequate”. His Arundel and South Downs constituency includes the villages of Wisborough Green and Kirdford, where Celtique Energie is appealing against a refusal of planning permission for exploratory drilling.

“Regulation is not fit for purpose”

Labour’s Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent) said: “It is worrying that the government is pressing ahead in deregulation when the evidence points to the need for a stronger not weaker regulatory framework”.

“The evidence is there that fracking and regulation is not fit for purpose”

Labour’s Barbara Keeley, who has the IGas Barton Moss exploratory site in her Worsley and Eccles South constituency, said:

“The Government should be determined to do the right and the safe thing by communities, but they are not doing so. They are determined to have this rushed through. Indeed, the Prime Minister is determined to win the debate on shale gas.”

Ian Lucas (Labour, Wrexham), said: “This government needs to speak out loud and clear and make absolutely clear that it will not countenance fracking unless it can be shown that it is a safe process.”

He said his constituents were frustrated by the decision by the planning inspector to override the refusal of planning application at Borras by the local authority.

Exclusion zones and safe site policy

John Mann (Labour, Bassetlaw) called for an exclusion area for fracking within 2km of any settlement and Rebecca Harris (Conservative, Castle Point) suggested the Government develop a “safe site policy”.

Kate Green (Labour, Stretford and Urmston) said there was a need for transparency around the safety regime:

“There is far too much denial and secrecy … in our experience where there has been exploratory drilling and that denial and secrecy, or non-acknowledgement of activity, frankly fuels further alarm”.

Deeply unpopular

The Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion, Caroline Lucas, described the fracking clauses of the Bill as “highly controversial and deeply unpopular.” She accused the government of failing to listen to public concerns.

“They keep talking about the importance of having public buy-in to fracking and yet they are simply not listening on this.”

Charles Hendry (Conservative, Wealden) supported the current regulatory system.

“The best way to deliver the toughest standards is by putting an unlimited obligation on companies to meet them, and by using the best technology and skills available to do so”.

Chris Pincher (Conservative, Tamworth) said public concerns must be addressed but he added: “We have to be careful that we do not allow concerns snowball into scaremongering.”

Peter Lilley (Conservative, Hitchin and Harpenden) asked: Why on earth is it a sin to drill a hole a mile from where we live and separated from us by a mile of rock, when we do not prevent people from walking through woods as long as they cause no damage? I think we can dismiss the trespass argument. Of course, if there is damage on the surface from such activities, it is right and proper that people are compensated for that disturbance.

The local government minister, Stephen Williams, who closed the debate, said: “The government will listen very carefully to all concerns during the committee and report stage and seek to address those concerns during the passage through parliament”.

Second Reading quotes and more extracts from the debate

Full Hansard transcript and voting records

Labour amendments to Infrastructure Bill issued December 8th 2014

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