A set of conditions on fracking, proposed by Labour and adopted by the Government a fortnight ago, has been rejected by the House of Lords without a vote.
In a debate on the Infrastructure Bill the Energy Minister, Baroness Verma, said the conditions were legally unviable, impractical and could not be included in the legislation.
She put forward an alternative set of proposals, which campaign groups have criticised as weaker.
Labour said it would not force a vote on the new conditions and they were adopted into the Bill. But its spokesman, Lord Tunniclffe, warned that Labour would not support the Government when the bill returned to the House of Commons.
The Green Party’s Baroness Jones withdrew her amendment, which sought to require the consent of residents where fracking was planned.
The original 13 conditions banned fracking from landscape and wildlife protected areas and areas supplying drinking water. They required mandatory Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) for all fracking operations, along with individual notification of residents in proposed fracking areas, independent inspections of wells and monitoring of fugitive methane emissions.
The government’s replacement leaves it to the Secretary of State to define, by the end of July, which groundwater and protected areas would be covered by the legislation. Other changes include a requirement on planning authorities to take account of the environmental impact of a development, not insist on an EIA. The need to notify people individually had also been removed and the wording of some conditions is looser.
Baroness Verma told the House of Lords “We must be very careful not to put in place restrictions in areas that do not achieve the intended aim of the condition or that go beyond it and needlessly damage the potential development of the shale industry”.
She said the new conditions were “designed to support the growth of the shale industry whilst reassuring local communities that this will be done in a safe and responsible manner.”
They were an improvement on the previous version, she said. They would stand up to legal challenge and would deliver the reassurance that had been asked for.
Baroness Verma said: “Shale gas is an exciting new energy resource for the UK. It offers huge potential, where all over the world countries are looking for greater self-sufficiency. Now is the time to seize not lose the opportunities to develop the UK shale industry.”
Lord Tunnicliffe said: “Labour has always said that shale gas extraction cannot go ahead unless there is a system of robust regulation and comprehensive inspection.”
The government had ignored people’s legitimate concerns over shale gas, he said. But thanks to Labour’s amendments, it had been forced to accept that “tough protection” and “proper safeguards” must be in place before fracking can go ahead.
The government’s redrafting ignored protections that had been agreed to in the House of Commons, Lord Tunnicliffe said. “I must make it clear to the house that if the government amendment is passed today it will be challenged if necessary in the House of Commons.”
Baroness Jones said the Government redrafting had missed out crucial details. She described the scheduling of the bill as a farce because it had left no time for votes on key parts of the bill.
“It is simply not good enough to pass something in one place and then to actually change something that is quite substantial”, she said.
The bill did not go far enough in protecting water supplies, Baroness Jones added. “In passing this bill, we are letting a Secretary of State decide on protected areas.” She said: “I wouldn’t trust a politician to decide on that.”
The government’s conditions exclude geothermal operations and will not apply to conventional oil and gas well stimulation techniques. Hydraulic fracturing will be defined in UK law.
[Updated on 11/2/15: to correct Baroness Jones’ amendment. This sought to require the consent of people in areas where fracking was planned and did not, as originally stated, seek to reinstate Labour’s conditions]