Transcripts of parliamentary questions, answers and debates on fracking and onshore oil and gas for the week ending 16th January 2015
- Committee stage of the Infrastructure Bill discussed amendments on fracking
- Three calls for full publication of a redacted report on impacts of fracking on rural economies
- Fracking regulations
- Fracking and “non-violent extremism”
- Devolution of shale licensing to Scotland
With thanks to TheyWorkForYou.com
13th January 2015
Infrastructure Bill committee stage
Government refuses to publish unredacted fracking report
Other morning headline
Transcripts: morning session; afternoon session on redacted Defra report, amendments to Clause 38, amendments to Clause 39
Written questions and answers
Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex, Conservative)
Q To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, pursuant to the Answer of 11 September 2014 to Question 208622, if she will reconsider her decision not to publish the Shale Gas Rural Economy Impact Report.
Dan Rogerson (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; North Cornwall, Liberal Democrat)
A I have nothing to add to the reply given to the hon. Member for Bassetlaw, John Mann, on 11 September 2014, Official Report, column 723W
Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton, Conservative)
Q To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, what recent representations he has received on regulations relating to hydraulic fracturing; and if he will make a statement.
Matthew Hancock (Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, West Suffolk, Conservative)
A The Department regularly receives representations regarding regulation relating to shale gas development and exploration and we have produced a range of guidance material which set out how these concerns are addressed. These can be found at the following link.
We have a strong regulatory framework in place to ensure a comprehensive regime for exploratory activities, and the UK has over 50 years of experience in oil and gas drilling. All of the right regulations are in place to ensure on-site safety, prevent water contamination, air pollution and mitigate seismic activity.
In June 2012 the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering published an independent review of the scientific and engineering evidence on risks associated with UK shale gas development. Their report concluded that environmental (and health and safety) risks can be managed effectively in the UK, when operational best practices are implemented and enforced through regulation.
In June 2014 Public Health England published a report that evaluated available evidence on issues including air quality, radon gas, naturally occurring radioactive materials, water contamination and waste water. They concluded that “the risks to public health from exposure to emissions from shale gas extraction are low if operations are properly run and regulated.”
Counter-terrorism and Security Bill – second reading in the House of Lords
Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Labour)
Universities UK raised a particular concern about paragraph 57 of the draft guidance, which explicitly states that universities must include “non-violent extremism” in the risk assessments they will be expected to carry out. As the former vice-chancellor of Salford University asks in the current Times Higher Education, could the new obligation, “be used against opponents of fracking … or any radical opposition to the status quo?”.
Surely universities are just the place where young people and others should be able to explore “extremist” ideas, however unpalatable, without being treated as potentially being on the path to terrorism or as popularising “views which terrorists exploit”, to quote the guidance.
[There was no direct response from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office Lord Bates, but later in the debate he said: “The only point I would make on universities is that a copy of the Official Report of this debate should be required reading in all universities. That is not a regulation; it is just a suggestion. I do not want to stir things up too much further“.]
14th January 2015
Questions to the Prime Minister
Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test, Labour)
Q At the Liaison Committee meeting on 16 December the Prime Minister promised to look into the full publication of the extensively redacted DEFRA report on shale gas rural economy impacts. Has he looked into this, and is he now going to insist on full and unredacted publication?
David Cameron (The Prime Minister; Witney, Conservative)
A I did look into the issue, and I do not want to give the hon. Gentleman an inaccurate answer so I will go and check on the action taken after that meeting and see what I can tell him.
Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East, Labour)
Q If the Secretary of State for Scotland will make it his policy that responsibility for licensing shale gas extraction should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament.
Alistair Carmichael (The Secretary of State for Scotland; Orkney and Shetland, Liberal Democrat)
A That is already Government policy. As the hon. Lady will be aware, the Smith commission heads of agreement stated that the licensing of onshore oil and gas extraction should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament. The Government are committed to publishing draft clauses in that respect by 25 January.
Q I very much welcome the Secretary of State’s commitment to that part of the Smith agreement, to which my party is also committed, not least because it will put an end to the attempts by some people to suggest that without the devolution of licensing, the Scottish Government are powerless to stop fracking if they want to. They already have powers over planning and regulation, but I hope that this change will close that argument down, to everybody’s benefit.
A The hon. Lady is right to say that the Scottish Government have planning and environmental regulation powers that would enable them to block any fracking project they wanted to block. It is sensible, in the circumstances that they should be given responsibility for the licensing of such activities as well. That will That will be done as part of the Smith process.
Angus Robertson (SNP Westminster Leader, Scottish National Party)
Q The Scottish Government and the Scottish National party have been pressing for the devolution of all powers over fracking for some time. Why have the UK Government ruled out devolving power over fracking licences until after the general election?
A That is part of the timetable to which we are all committed. Until I heard the Deputy First Minister speak at the National museum, I had thought that the hon. Gentleman’s party was committed to it as well. We are proceeding with that speedy and tight process. I will publish the draft clauses before 25 August—sorry, I mean 25 January, which is, incidentally, before 25 August. With 25 January being a Sunday, we might even meet the deadline with a few days to spare.
Q Until now, the UK Government’s position has been to remove the right of Scottish householders to object to unconventional gas or oil drilling underneath their homes. What will the position be between now and the full devolution of powers over fracking? Will the Department of Energy and Climate Change give an undertaking that it will not issue any fresh licences?
A The position will be as it is at the moment, which is that if there is any fracking project in Scotland, the hon. Gentleman’s colleagues in the Scottish Government will have the power, using planning or environmental regulations, to block it. They should not seek to push the blame on to anyone else.
Tom Greatrex (Shadow Minister (Energy); Rutherglen and Hamilton West, Labour)
Q The Secretary of State will be aware that, following the amendments that I moved in the Committee stage of the Infrastructure Bill yesterday, there has been movement from the Government, which we should all welcome. Will he help the House by clarifying the fact that having a licence does not enable somebody to undertake any extraction or exploration activity? It has been suggested that it does, but that is absolutely not the case.
A I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for his efforts on this matter and, in particular, for tabling his amendments. As was made clear to him yesterday in Committee, the Government will return to the matter on Report. We will table an amendment that we believe will achieve the same end, which is the carving out of Scotland from those provisions in the Infrastructure Bill. He is absolutely right that licensing is just one element—it provides no overall entitlement. For fracking to go ahead, the Scottish Government have to give consent on planning and environmental grounds.
Written questions and answers
Norman Baker (Lib Dem, Lewes)
Q To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, if she will publish by 16 January 2015 the Shale Gas Rural Economy Impacts report; and if she will make a statement.
Dan Rogerson (Environment Minister, Lib Dem, North Cornwall)
A I refer the hon. Member to the reply given to the hon. Member for Bassetlaw, John Mann, on 11 September 2014, Official Report, column 723W.