Fracking Week in Westminster w/e 13/3/15


Government ministers were challenged on the impacts of fracking during questions in both the House of Commons and the Lords.

The pro-fracking peer, Lord Lawson, accused Lancashire County Council of trying to block shale gas development by “turning down every single application for exploratory drilling?”

The chair of the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs Committee, Anne McIntosh, urged the government to make water companies statutory consultees for fracking planning applications

With thanks to http://www.theyworkforyou.com for the transcripts

Houses of Lords questions on fracking
11th March 2015

Lord Greaves, Liberal Democrat
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they intend to carry out a full assessment of, and public consultation on, the environmental, landscape and community impacts of any schemes that take place for exploratory fracking before granting any consent for commercial shale gas extraction.

Baroness Verma, Energy Minister, Conservative
My Lords, the environmental, landscape and community impacts of any exploratory hydraulic fracturing for shale gas are already taken into account through the UK’s regulatory and planning regimes. These regimes also provide opportunities for the public to be consulted.

Lord Greaves, Liberal Democrat
My Lords, there are two very broad arguments against fracking. The first is that the carbon should be left in the ground, because to remove it will contribute to climate change. The second concerns the whole range of environmental, social, cultural and landscape issues around fracking. We simply do not know what the effect of fracking will be, in all circumstances, on this densely populated country, with our regulatory regime. Surely, it is sensible to have two or three pilot schemes and to evaluate those properly and officially before going ahead with any more.

Baroness Verma
My Lords, the economic impact of shale, both locally and nationally, will of course depend on production. However, there will clearly be opportunities for the UK to benefit, particularly through being much more self-sufficient in energy production. On the wider issues that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, mentioned, we need to make sure that, during the process, communities—the public—have opportunities to partake in the consultation at many junctures.

Lord Wigley, Plaid Cymru
My Lords, does the Minister accept that, since the Infrastructure Bill went through this Chamber a few months ago, there have been changes with regard to both Scotland and Wales and that control over on-land fracking will be devolved? Indeed, in the National Assembly in Cardiff, an indicative resolution was passed supporting a moratorium, supported by Members of all parties. In these circumstances, can she give an assurance that all those approaching the department with regard to fracking will be notified that the situation in Wales and Scotland may be different?

Baroness Verma
My Lords, we have made it clear that onshore exploration will be devolved.

Lord Judd, Labour
My Lords, does the Minister agree that, while fracking may have a vital contribution to make to our economic future and our energy resources, we are not seeking to generate energy as an end in itself? We are seeking to generate energy to have a United Kingdom worth living in. The richness and preciousness of our countryside is one of the most invaluable assets of that society worth living in. Therefore, is not the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, absolutely fundamental to the kind of Britain that we want to live in?

Baroness Verma
My Lords, we have been fracturing for many years. It is nothing new. We are making sure, through legislation recently enacted, that there will be protection for national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty, but we need to explore potential so that we do not rely on overseas energy that spikes up in price and whose supply can be dictated by geopolitical events. I think that this Government have approached it very responsibly.

Lord Lawson of Blaby, Conservative
My Lords, given the agreement on all sides of this House, and indeed more widely, on the desirability of boosting the development of the economy of the north of England, and given that American experience suggests strongly that the greatest single contributor to that could be the successful development of the Bowland shale in the north-west, is it not deplorable that Labour-led Lancashire County Council is doing its best to prevent this happening by turning down every single application for exploratory drilling?

Baroness Verma
My Lords, while my noble friend of course makes a very helpful intervention, we need to be mindful that development needs to take account of local communities. Therefore, it is absolutely right that the processes in place are followed properly so that community benefits reach out to those people. We should ensure that the case for fracking is made properly and that businesses, suppliers and operators are all engaged with local communities.

Baroness Worthington, Labour
My Lords, it was incredibly gratifying to see Ministers in the other place finally relent and accept that, far from being fine or perfectly capable, the regulatory regime for fracking in this country needs a massive overhaul. When do the Government plan to consult the public on bringing in the new regulations that were won by Labour in the House of Commons?

Baroness Verma
My Lords, I think that the noble Baroness recognises that this Government have been responsive to concerns raised by the public. That is why we have taken those decisions to look carefully at legislation that is going through both this House and the other place. However, to say that our regulatory organisations are not robust would be unfair, because we have among the most stringent regulatory frameworks in the world.

Lord Tebbit, Conservative
My Lords, could my noble friend contemplate for a moment what our Victorian forebears would have said if those who are now opposed to fracking had been present in those days to oppose coal mining? It would of course have avoided the coal miners’ strike, which was about keeping open our uneconomic pits to dig more coal.

Baroness Verma
My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend has made some very important points in that contribution. On going forward and ensuring that we become less dependent on external factors, I agree with my noble friend that we need to make progress.

12th March

Anne McIntosh, Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee
Will my right hon. Friend commit to giving statutory status as consultees to water companies for fracking, major developments and houses and roads? In the time available, what will she look back on and see as her Department’s major achievement over the past five years?

Elizabeth Truss, The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
I certainly commit to my hon. Friend that we will ensure that there are proper environmental protections for water, as part of the Environment Agency’s work on protection for fracking areas. On the Department’s achievements, we have put food and farming at the heart of the long-term economic plan. We have seen food exports rise to £19 billion. That is vital for the one in eight people in this country who work in food and farming.

Click here for our report on government refusal of independent oversight of fracking regulation

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