Opposition

Reaction to yesterday’s fracking votes in Infrastructure Bill debate

Yesterday (26/1/15) MPs voted on fracking in parliament for the first time. They discussed clauses to ban, temporarily halt and control fracking during the Report Stage of the Infrastructure Bill. The Bill includes Government measures to give companies a right to drill or leave substances underground without the landowners’ permission. It also makes it a duty on the Government to maximise the economic recovery of the UK oil and gas industry. 

What happened yesterday?

  • The Government announced an outright ban on fracking in National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty
  • The Government accepted Labour’s proposals for conditions on fracking without a vote See details here
  • A moratorium on fracking defeated after most Labour MPs voted with the Conservatives and Lib Dems See details
  • The Infrastructure Bill given a Third Reading and now goes on to the House of Lords

Reaction We have reaction (in alphabetical order) from:

  • Environmental groups
  • Finance
  • Government
  • Industry
  • Newspapers
  • Politics
  • Residents groups

Environmental and heritage groups

Donna Hume, Energy Campaigner at Friends of the Earth,
Public opinion and increasing concern from MPs has forced the Government into retreat on fracking. Everywhere fracking is proposed, local communities say no.

But these concessions do not go far enough. These changes would not prevent fracking getting the green light in Lancashire, despite overwhelming opposition from local communities. The only way to safeguard our climate, local communities and their environment from the fracking threat is to halt shale gas completely.

Ministers should stop believing their own fracking hype and concentrate on real solutions to the energy challenges we face such as the renewable power and cutting energy waste.

Greenpeace energy campaigner Simon Clydesdale
These concessions are a sign that the monolithic consensus of fracking is finally crumbling under the weight of mounting evidence that this industry is bad for the environment and for the climate.

Banning fracking from national parks and sensitive water protection areas, though basic common sense, is a clear step forward in recognising the risks of this industry. Now that ministers have implicitly recognised that shale drilling is too risky for our nature reserves, they’ll have a tough job trying to explain why that isn’t the case across the country.

Peter Nixon, National Trust Director for Land, Landscape and Nature
Today’s announced plans by Government to ban fracking in sensitive areas represents a hugely important moment for the natural world and our wonderful landscapes.

It would be a very dangerous gamble to expose these special places and wildlife that as a nation we love to a largely untested technology that only takes us further away from our climate change targets.

We now need to continue to fight for strong regulation to protect our wider environment against the impacts of the shale gas industry.

Finance

Westhouse Securities told the Independent
The report by the Environmental Audit Committee [published yesterday] “creates significant further uncertainty around what has been a very emotive issue”. Shares in IGas fell 7.5p to 19.5p.

Industry

IGas
IGas is pleased to note that Parliament has rejected an amendment to the Infrastructure Bill that would have introduced a moratorium on the exploration and development of gas from shale in Britain. In doing so, Parliament has recognised that domestic gas will form a key part of Britain’s energy mix for years to come.

The Bill now gives welcome clarity with respect to land access rights and trespass, and reinforces in law existing industry best practice. In rejecting calls for a moratorium, Parliament is recognising the depth and quality of regulation that is already in place for the exploration and development of oil and gas resources onshore.

Both regulators and industry have over many years worked to ensure that any risks or environmental impacts are minimal and that operators fully engage with the communities in which they operate.

This is a milestone for the industry as there is now clarity and certainty in terms of regulation which enables both new and existing players to invest in shale and Britain’s energy future with confidence.

Ken Cronin of UKOOG, the industry trade body
It is good news that MPs have rejected the misguided attempt to introduce a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing. Most of the amendments agreed are in line with best practice in the industry or codify the directions of regulators, which the industry would naturally comply with. We now need to get on with exploratory drilling to find out the extent of the UK’s oil and gas reserves.

Government

Department of Energy and Climate Change (quoted by The Telegraph)
Labour’s proposals are already Government policy, carried out voluntarily by industry or as part of Environment Agency or HSE every day working practice. We have agreed to accept this amendment, to provide clear reassurance in law, and to give this nascent industry has the best possible chance of success.

Lord Deben, chair of the Climate Change Committee, told Business Green
The government has to make it absolutely clear in a way that cannot be rescinded that any development of fracked gas will be within the carbon budget and the government will ensure that it is within the carbon budget.

In the same way that they have to make sure you don’t have so much coal in the system that you can’t meet the carbon budget then it’s their duty to that. At the moment they have to make sure that we don’t use so much oil that we don’t break the carbon budget, so surely they need to say the same thing about gas.

Newspaper

Tories forced into U-turn on fast-track fracking after accepting Labour plans – The Guardian
The government made a major U-turn on plans to fast-track UK fracking on Monday after accepting Labour proposals to tighten environmental regulations. David Cameron had previously said the government was “going all out” for shale gas development, but widespread public concern and a looming defeat by worried Tory and Liberal Democrat backbenchers forced ministers to back down.

Fracking: Let the drilling begin – The Telegraph
The anti-fracking lobby will take heart from such backtracking to pursue their cause. They will also have been emboldened by a report from the Commons environmental audit committee which stated that fracking was incompatible with the UK’s low-carbon commitment, a questionable assertion that is not supported by peer-reviewed scientific research.

The Coalition Government has put in place a robust regulatory regime for shale extraction and the time has now come to get fracking. The country will simply not understand it if our parliamentarians continue to stand in the way of the opportunities it provides to underpin our energy security.

Stop this madness over fracking – or the lights really will go out – Philip Johnston in The Telegraph
Here we have a golden opportunity to generate a large proportion of this country’s own gas supply and yet a significant number of our parliamentarians seem determined to throw it away.

Yesterday in the Commons, there was an attempt to impose a moratorium on fracking through amendments to the Infrastructure Bill, which is intended to facilitate the planning process and make the exploration of shale reserves commercially viable. For goodness sake, let’s stop dithering over fracking.

The Commons vote against a moratorium will not stop the anti-frackers; and the way this argument is going, a hung parliament and a Labour-led coalition may even kill off the industry before it has even had a chance. If that happens it’s time to start stockpiling candles.

Whiff of panic over Britain’s fracking policy – Financial Times
With an election in the offing, the mood at Westminster is itself fracturing. An unholy alliance of MPs is emerging whose purpose is to keep frackers out of their constituents’ back yards.

One part is influenced by the Green party, which has been outperforming the Lib Dems in the polls and threatens to peel away voters on the left. The other is at the opposite end of the political spectrum, and comprises rural MPs fretful about upsetting their middle-class constituents

What is worrying is that in the highly charged atmosphere before the election, ministers appear willing to tighten regulations to appease the nimby-ish mood. Monday’s concession in the Commons to 13 new opposition inspired fracking safeguards smacks of expediency rather than sound policy.

What is really needed is a dispassionate and calm debate about fracking. Highly politicised reports and panicked government concessions are not the best way to bring this about.

Politics

Tessa Munt, Lib Dem MP for Wells
Today I handed in my resignation after 3 enjoyable years working closely alongside Vince Cable as his PPS in the Business Department. I understood the implications of voting against the Government, but with my principles, in favour of a moratorium or ‘freeze’ on fracking, as endorsed by the Environmental Audit Committee’s Report published on Monday morning.

Even though the Infrastructure Bill passed with the insistence of both the large parties last night. I have restated my opposition to fracking today. I am unwilling to compromise and cannot change my opposition to fracking. I will continue to campaign vocally against fracking and as result it is clear that my views cannot be reconciled with the Government on this matter. This evening I tendered my resignation as PPS to Vince.

I will continue to defend and represent this beautiful part of Somerset, its residents, businesses with all the enthusiasm and energy that I have had since May 2010 when I became the Member.

Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion, Caroline Lucas
The debate was farcical – so little time was given that we weren’t even able to bring the trespass amendment to vote.

That amendment sought to prevent fracking companies being awarded sweeping new powers to frack beneath your home without your consent – a move opposed by 99% of respondents to the Government’s own consultation. It was backed in a petition by 360,000 people.

When it came to a freeze on fracking, Labour abstained. Instead they served up their own superficial tweaks, lacking in detail and riddled with loopholes. The strength of public feeling on this issue is palpable – and I think it’s intensified still further in the face of the astonishing lack of transparency, lack of accountability and lack of regard for the views of voters.

People won’t be silenced on this. In the run up to the crucial Paris climate talks later this year, the pressure to ditch plans for fracking and instead invest in clean home-grown renewable energy will continue to grow.

Shadow energy secretary, Caroline Flint, told The Guardian
This is a huge u-turn by the Government and big victory for the protection of Britain’s environment. “Labour has always said that shale gas extraction cannot go ahead unless there is a system of robust regulation and comprehensive inspection, but David Cameron has repeatedly ignored people’s genuine and legitimate environmental concerns over shale gas.

Scottish National Party
Scottish Labour have proven themselves to be a complete sham on fracking. After a weekend of posturing Jim Murphy’s MPs failed to back a fracking moratorium. Clearly they are now just announcing policies, any policies for publicity and political gain yet doing nothing to follow them through. Their pathetic motion did not involve a moratorium, and did not even apply to Scotland.  The SNP support a UK moratorium to ensure that no more licences for fracking are granted before full powers over licensing are transferred to the Scottish Parliament.

Tim Yeo, chair of the Energy and Climate Change Committee, Conservative MP for Suffolk South (in the Dail Mail)
I hope there will enough momentum – at least in some parts of the country – to get it going anyway but this will make it more difficult. There has been a lot of emotion and misinformation in this debate and I think when fracking is up and running people will not be opposed to it. Some of the amendments such as notifying people, are sensible, but others are more onerous. We will rely on gas for many years to come, and we may as well use our own rather than other people’s.

Residents’ groups

Frack Free Balcombe Residents’ Association
Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs), such as Balcombe, were agreed yesterday to be out of bounds for fracking. It might be hoped that Cuadrilla will now be forced to leave Balcombe in peace following yesterday’s votes.

But the situation is more complicated than that.

Cuadrilla have insisted in recent times that they no longer intend to frack in Balcombe, that they will simply create pathways through a shallow layer of micrite with hydrochloric acid. This is known in the trade as an ‘acid wash’ or ‘acid frack’.

It is carried out at pressure, but at a lower pressure than shale fracking, as micrite is a loose-textured rock, mainly calcium carbonate, and will be chemically attacked by the acid. Whether Cuadrilla’s current plans for Balcombe count as ‘fracking’ is a matter of semantics. Cuadrilla have drilled their lateral well into a 30 to 40-metre thick stratum of micrite.

According to Lancashire oil and gas engineer Mike Hill, this is not a sufficient depth to warrant testing. It will not give a financially viable oil flow. A low-pressure acid wash will make its way a few metres into the rock, unless Cuadrilla use considerable pressure. How would anyone know what pressure they had used?

‘No one will know,’ says Hill, ‘because no one checks. This industry can do what they like because monitoring is based on self-reporting.’

[Updated at 12.00 on 27/1/15 to include Financial Times opinion and on 28/1/15 to include National Trust and Frack Free Balcombe Residents’ Association]

5 replies »

  1. Forgive me for being so näive as to actually believe that an MPs job is to act FOR the people in their constituency! So, if every MP did as they’re supposed to, there would be no fracking, as their constituents don’t want their house price to fall, their constituents don’t want water poisoned, their environment polluted, or carcinogens in the air, affecting the health of their loved ones. MPs need to LISTEN to the collective voice of the people, saying absolutely NO to fracking!

  2. Well. said Amanda, our elected MP’s forget that they are meant to work for the folks who elected them, but they are in for a shock at the next lection since the same electorate will boot them out for supporting this abomination of a bill.

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