Both sides in the fracking debate are lobbying hard as they go into a crucial week.
Growing numbers of MPs are backing calls for a moratorium ahead of the first vote on fracking by the House of Commons. Cuadrilla is offering to spend millions to get its planning applications in the Fylde accepted. And a petition against proposals to allow oil and gas companies to drill under properties without the owners’ permission has topped over 300,000 signatures.
On Monday campaigners against fracking will gather at Westminster for a rally to coincide with a debate on the Infrastructure Bill. MPs will vote, among other things, on underground access rights and a proposal that would require governments to maximise the economic recovery of the UK oil and gas industry.
Opposition appears to be building to the government. Yesterday’s Times said ministers were increasingly worried they faced defeat, particularly on amendments to the Infrastructure Bill.
Amendments: controls, moratorium and permanent ban
The latest list of amendments, published this morning, had two calling for a moratorium, signed by a total of 19 MPs. These included the former Conservative environment secretary, Caroline Spelman. Another amendment, signed by four MPs, calls for a permanent ban, while the Conservative chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Anne McIntosh, has put down 13 amendments controlling the use and operation of fracking. A Labour amendment sets 13 conditions, which must be met before fracking can go ahead.
Added to this, a report on the risks of fracking, due out on Monday by MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee is expected to criticise the clause on maximising economic recovery of oil and gas and call for a moratorium.
SNP backs moratorium
This morning the SNP said its MPs would back the moratorium in Monday’s vote. The party’s energy spokesperson, Mike Weir, said:
“The SNP will be voting for the amendment to ensure the Tories stop granting licences in Scotland given licencing powers are due to be devolved, as set out by the Smith Commission”. The Scottish government said it would outline its plans on fracking next week.
Also today, the Scottish Labour leader, Jim Murphy, said:
“If I am elected First Minister in 2016 there will be no onshore fracking in Scotland until it has been shown beyond all doubt that it can be carried out safely”.
He said there would be local ballots before planning approval could be given.
There’s also support for a moratorium among the speakers at Monday’s rally. One of them, Bianca Jagger, said today:
“MPs should support the call for a moratorium so they can take a proper look at the growing body of evidence showing the harmful impacts of fracking. New York State, Germany and France have already called a halt to fracking, and the UK should follow suit.”
Simon Clydesdale, energy campaigner for Greenpeace (one of the rally organisers), added:
“Whether or not you support fracking, some things should never be up for negotiation, like the quality of our air and water. Yet ministers are acting irresponsibly by throwing open the doors to fracking despite growing evidence that it can both harm our local environment and damage the climate.
“For many MPs this vote will be a moment of truth. They can either toe the party line for the sake of an unproven and risky industry, or they can stand up for the well-being of their communities. Whichever they choose, their constituents will be watching.”
A petition calling on MPs to vote against plans to take away the right of homeowners to oppose fracking under their homes has gathered more than 300,000 signatures, Greenpeace said today. Campaigners will deliver the petition after the rally.
- The rally is at Old Palace Yard, opposite the House of Lords. It starts at 12.30pm, with speeches at 1pm from Bianca Jagger, Caroline Lucas MP, John Ashton, Julian Huppert MP and Vivienne Westwood.
Cuadrilla’s Fylde fracking plans
Two days after the rally, Lancashire County Councillors are due to begin considering Cuadrilla’s planning applications to frack up to eight wells at Preston New Road and Roseacre Wood. A report by planning officers, published on Wednesday, recommended both applications be refused. It said likely noise levels at both sites would have “significant adverse effects on health and quality of life”. They also raised concerns about the severe impact of lorry movements to and from Roseacre Wood.
Yesterday afternoon Cuadrilla announcing that it had asked for the meetings to be deferred. In a statement, the company said the reasons given by planning officers for refusing the applications could be resolved.
Cuadrilla promises to spend £5m on quieter fracking
The company told the Telegraph it would spend £5m on quieter fracking in Lancashire in an attempt to address the concerns.
The Telegraph said Cuadrilla had previously argued that it would be an “unreasonable burden” to limit noise levels further. But yesterday it set out plans costing £2-2.7m per site. These would include “a further sound barrier around the major parts of the drilling rig along with other measures such as additional shielding around individual components of the drilling rig” at Preston New Road.
“The detail of this additional mitigation requires proper consultation and planning regulations clearly require this. We have therefore also requested a deferral in the determination of our planning applications to allow for this consultation to take place.”
Responding today, Friends of the Earth’s North West Campaigner Helen Rimmer said:
“This is yet another example of Cuadrilla trying to circumvent the planning process and creating more uncertainty for communities by doing so. They’ve had months to get the information right and it’s outrageous to make such a last minute request. Two thirds of people in Lancashire don’t want to see fracking in the county and the Council must refuse the deferral and turn down Cuadrilla’s controversial plans.”
Frack Free Lancashire accused Cuadrilla of panicking. Barbara Richardson, of Roseacre Awareness Group said
“We are shocked and surprised by this application [for a deferral]. We have been arguing about the appropriate noise levels for months so they [Cuadrilla] should have known what the acceptable limits were. We think the hearings should go ahead as planned.”
“A deferral will throw a spanner in the works for our presentations. We have people coming from London and even France to present evidence to the hearings. People have had to take time off work and we even had a QC lined up. All the groups were geared up to go now.”
Whatever the result next week, Cuadrilla’s CEO Francis Egan said fracking would happen. He told Energy Voice Cuadrilla would appeal against any refusal of planning permission.
“It [fracking] is going to happen. We disagree with the recommendation of the planning officer on the noise issue. We hope that the committee will vote for these. If they don’t, clearly we will have grounds for appeal, we believe, under the planning system.”