Legal

Growing list of MPs calling for moratorium on fracking

Two groups of MPs from five political parties will call for a moratorium on fracking when the Infrastructure Bill is debated on Monday (January 26th). This morning, eight members of the Environmental Audit Committee put down an amendment to the Bill calling for a moratorium, based on the conclusions of their inquiry into the environmental risks of fracking.

This follows another amendment, submitted yesterday by 11 MPs, who called for unconventional oil and gas exploitation to stop while the government carried out an assessment.

The Infrastructure Bill includes clauses which would allow oil and gas companies to drill beneath land and to leave substances or equipment there without the owners’ permission. The Bill also makes it a legal duty for the government to maximise the economic recovery of UK petroleum. MPs will vote on Report Stage on Monday afternoon. The amendments will provide the first opportunity for UK MPs to vote on fracking. More than 20 other amendments have been submitted (see second half of post).

Today’s amendment by EAC members was signed by Joan Walley, the committee chair, along with fellow Labour MPs Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North), Katy Clark (North Ayrshire and Arran), and Alan Whitehead (Southampton Test), Conservatives Matthew Offord (Hendon), Caroline Spelman (Meriden), and Zac Goldsmith (Richmond Park), and the Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion, Caroline Lucas.

The amendment called for:

  • Removal of the clause on maximising economic recovery of the UK petroleum
  • Insertion of a requirement to ensure that fossil fuel emissions are limited to carbon budgets advised by the Committee on Climate Change
  • A moratorium on the hydraulic fracturing of shale gas deposits to reduce the risk of carbon budgets being breached

Dr Lucas and Dr Whitehead also signed yesterday’s amendment. The other signatories were Labour MPs Yasim Qureshi (Bolton SE), Roger Godsiff (Birmingham Hall Green), Geraint Davies (Swansea West), Martin Carton (Gower), John Mann (Bassetlaw), and Liz McInnes (Heywood and Middleton), Lib Dems Michael Thornton (Eastleigh) and Julian Huppert (Cambridge) and Plaid Cymru’s Hywel Williams (Arfon).

That amendment called for

  • Use of land for exploitation of unconventional petroleum to be discontinued
  • Independent assessment of exploitation of unconventional petroleum, including fracking, into the impact on climate change, the environment, health and safety and the economy
  • Publication of the assessment

The amendment said the assessment should take at least 18 months and not more than 30 months. It should start two months after the passing of the Infrastructure Bill. The moratorium would coincide with the period of the assessment.

Other amendments

MPs have submitted more than 20 other amendments to the bill, which seek to control or limit fracking and remove the duty on maximising the economic recovery of petroleum.

Removal of all fracking clauses Dr Lucas, along with the Conservative MP Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton), the Lib Dem Norman Baker (Lewes) and seven others, have called for the removal of all the clauses in the Bill relating to fracking and deep level access. Dr Lucas and six others have called in a separate amendment for the deletion of the clause dealing with maximising economic recovery of UK oil and gas.

Ban on fracking Dr Lucas, and Labour’s John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) and Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) have called for prohibition of high volume hydraulic fracturing to extract oil and gas

Fracking exclusion zones Another 10 MPs, including Dr Lucas, Dr Huppert, Mr Thornton and Mr Baker, have called for “hydraulic fracturing exclusion zones”. This would prevent the use of fracking in protected wildlife areas, such as Special Areas of Conservation and Sites of Scientific Interest. It would also ban fracking in National Parks. Sir John Randal submitted a similar separate amendment. And shadow ministers Tom Greatrex, Richard Burden and Robert Blackman-Woods put down an amendment requiring a presumption under planning guidance against developments in protected areas.

Approval of Committee on Climate Change Eight MPs, including Mr Baker and Dr Huppert, have called for deep level drilling and hydraulic fracturing to be allowed only if the Committee on Climate Change’s most recent report concludes that shale gas exploitation leads to a net reduction of UK carbon emissions. Dr Lucas, in a separate amendment, required the strategies drawn up under the clauses on maximising economic recovery of oil and gas to be compatible with the Climate Change Act.

Buffer zones John Mann, Andrew Percy and Yasmin Qureshi called for well shafts to be not within 2km of any village or town.

Owners’ agreement An amendment by Miss McIntosh and the SDLP MP for South Down, Margaret Ritchie, called for the owners’ agreement before any land could be altered by underground development.

Cumulative impacts Dr Whitehead submitted an amendment requiring the government to commission reports on the cumulative impacts of vehicles movements from the fracking industry on local communities and the impacts of water use and flowback and waste water.

Environmental Impact Assessments Miss McIntosh required the publication of environmental statements for oil and gas drilling before planning applications were submitted to local authorities.

Publication of unredacted report Miss McIntosh and Ms Ritchie called on the government to publish within a month a full version of its report on the impacts of shale gas on the rural economy. This report was published in response to an FOI request but with more than 60 redactions.

Labour’s fracking conditions The shadow energy secretary, Caroline Flint, and shadow energy minister, Tom Greatrex, set 13 conditions for fracking to take place. These include requirements for: environmental impact assessments; independent inspections of well integrity; monitoring in the previous 12-month period; measurement and public disclosure of previous and future fugitive emissions; and consideration of cumulative impacts by planning authorities.

They also required drilling to be deeper than 1,000m and to be outside protected areas and groundwater source protection zones. Residents in affected areas were to be notified individually, water companies should be consulted by planning authorities and companies should provide community benefit schemes by law. Miss McIntosh, in a separate amendment called for drilling underground without permission to be limited to land 950m below the surface. The current clause in the Bill sets the limit at 300m.

Well inspections Mr Greatrex, along with shadow ministers Richard Burden and Roberta Blackman-Woods, also put down an amendment requiring the Health and Safety Executive to inspect well design plans to ensure there could be no unplanned escape of fluids and the risks to health and safety were as low as reasonably practical. This information should be published.

Scientific peer review Andrew Miller (Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston) called for environmental data to be published in a form that allowed it to be scientifically reviewed.

Precautionary principle An amendment by Miss McIntosh and Ms Ritchie required that exploiting petroleum should not be allowed unless it is proved not to be harmful to the environment. A separate amendment by seven MPs sought to prevent shale oil or gas exploitation if the Environment Agency or water company said it would contaminate surface or ground water or contaminate the nearby environment.

Approval and declaration of substances left underground Another amendment by Miss McIntosh and Ms Ritchie required substances left underground to be approved by the Environment Agency and publicly declared by the operator.

Waste Miss McIntosh proposed that the right of deep level land should be conditional on operators removing wastewater safely from the site and treating and disposing of it effectively. Information on treatment and disposal should be published.

Welsh powers Three Plaid Cymru MPs, Hywel Williams, Elfyn Llwyd (Dwyfor Meirionydd) and Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen E and Dinefwr) have called for the clause dealing with underground access to not apply to Wales.

Full list of amendments at 22nd January

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