Transcripts of parliamentary questions, answers and debates on fracking and onshore oil and gas for the week ending 19th December 21014
This week saw new amendments to the Infrastructure Bill Our Report. The Prime Minister also faced tough questioning about fracking regulations from members of the Liaison Committee, which is made up of the chairs of House of Commons Committees See our report.
Also this week, there were parliamentary questions on:
- Devolution of shale gas mineral access and licensing to the Scottish Parliament
- Financial benefits for fracking communities
- Shepherdswell, Kent and drilling next to protected areas
- Claims about water contamination and tremors
With thanks to WWW.TheyWorkForYou.com
16th December 2014
Written Energy Questions
Graeme Morrice (Livingston, Labour)
Q To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, what assessment he has made of the Smith Commission’s recommendations to devolve shale gas mineral access rights to Scotland.
Matthew Hancock (Energy Minister; West Suffolk, Conservative)
A The UK Government has welcomed the Smith Commission Agreement and has committed to delivering draft clauses by 25 January 2015. The Department will now prepare draft clauses in order that the Agreement can be implemented. It is worth noting that most of the powers needed to make Scottish decisions on Shale are already devolved to Holyrood, Including all decisions on whether or not to grant planning and permitting consent for shale development.
Q To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, what assessment he has made of the Smith Commission’s recommendations to devolve the licensing of fracking companies to Scotland.
A The UK Government has welcomed the Smith Commission Agreement and has committed to delivering draft clauses by 25 January 2015. That was the clear commitment made to people during the referendum. The Department will now prepare draft clauses in order that the Agreement can be implemented, but most of the powers needed to make Scottish decisions on Shale are already devolved to Holyrood, including all decisions on whether or not to grant planning and permitting consent for shale development.
18th December 2014
Oral questions on energy and climate change
David Nuttall (Bury North, Conservative)
Q Will the Minister set out what financial benefits will be available for local communities where shale gas sites are situated? Will he confirm that it will be local communities that benefit, and that it will not be possible for councils to pocket the cash and use it elsewhere?
A Absolutely. The industry is committed to ensuring that there is a contribution to communities for exploration, but also that a minimum of 1% of production revenues goes to local communities. Some companies have said that they will put more than that minimum into local communities. It is crucial that the communities from under which gas can be extracted benefit from that extraction.
Charlie Elphicke (Dover, Conservative)
Q The villagers of Shepherdswell in my constituency are concerned about plans for onshore gas exploration there. They are adjacent to an area of outstanding natural beauty, so will the Minister restate the guidance on that matter?
A Absolutely. My first act in this job was to strengthen the planning guidance and rules on the extraction of onshore oil and gas in national parks, AONBs and other places. That is an important reassurance to those who live in the most beautiful parts of our country that planning considerations for onshore oil and gas will be extremely tight.
18th December 2014
Onshore Oil and Gas Exploration (Scotland)
Michael Weir (Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Business), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change); Angus, Scottish National Party)
Q How many licences for onshore oil and gas exploration in Scotland have been granted by his Department in the last five years.
A In the past five years, the number of onshore licences for oil and gas exploration that have been granted in Scotland is zero.
Q The Minister is aware that the Smith commission has recommended that the powers in relation to unconventional oil and gas be transferred to the Scottish Parliament where planning permission already rests. Will he press for an early transfer of those powers?
A As the hon. Gentleman says, the Scottish authorities already have control of planning for onshore oil and gas, and the Smith commission recommends that the licensing of onshore oil and gas underlying Scotland be devolved, whereas the licensing of offshore oil and gas will remain reserved. The proposals to bring this matter forward in a Scotland Bill are ongoing, but as he knows, the Infrastructure Bill is also going through this House as we speak, and we will look at the proposals for how we can make this agreement real.
Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden, Conservative)
Q When my right hon. Friend hands out licences, particularly in Scotland if it remains his power, will he make it clear that those who claim that hydraulic fracturing is a novel and dangerous process are talking nonsense? Far from being novel, 2.5 million wells have been fractured. Far from being dangerous, nobody has been poisoned by contaminated water, and no building has been damaged by the minute tremors, which are one thousandth of the power
A My right hon. Friend makes a powerful argument. Of course the regulatory regime for onshore oil and gas extraction in the UK is very strong. Onshore oil and gas extraction has been going on for many, many decades and hydraulic fracturing has been used onshore over many decades in the UK. We will continue to try to make the most of these huge reserves underneath the UK and do so in a careful and cautious way.
John Robertson (Glasgow North West, Labour)
Q The Minister will be aware that the price of oil has come down, which means that there will be a lack of investment in the North sea either side of the Shetland islands and into the Atlantic as well. What will the Government do about the jobs shortages that are starting to come through the system, and how we will maintain the reduced prices for customers?
A One of the advantages of onshore oil and gas exploration is that the jobs offshore often require similar skills sets, so there is the potential for crossover. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Wood review is being implemented to improve the regulatory regime offshore to ensure that it is more flexible and that we can get maximum economic recovery from under the North sea. We are also reviewing the fiscal regime to ensure that we incentivise the production of North sea oil, which is good for the whole of the UK.
Tom Greatrex (Shadow Energy Minister; Rutherglen and Hamilton West, Labour)
Q As the Minister is aware, planning powers and the permitting regime that takes place through the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, which is responsible to Ministers in Edinburgh, mean that no fracking can happen in Scotland without the approval of the SNP in Holyrood. It is a matter for them and, frankly, they should stop trying to distort that debate by suggesting that it is not. Following submissions made by me and others, the cross-party Smith agreement included commitments not just on licensing but to devolve underground mineral access rights, which are effectively a secondary aspect of the planning process, to Scotland. Labour has tabled an amendment to the Infrastructure Bill, which is now in Committee, to make that commitment good now. Will the Minister commit to supporting that amendment, which will help make it clear and consistent, beyond nationalist distortion, where responsibility for such matters lies?
A We are absolutely clear about the policy: Scotland will be responsible for onshore oil and gas exploration. That will include not only planning, as is the case now and which is an effective veto, but the positive aspects of licensing. It is a matter for the Scottish Government now, and in the future it will be unambiguously a matter for the Scottish Government. We are carefully considering whether that is done through the Infrastructure Bill or through a future Scotland Bill, but we can put beyond any doubt the clear commitment of the two Front Benches of the major parties in the UK that the onshore exploration of oil and gas is a matter for the Scottish Government in Scotland.