Politics

MPs demand more concessions on fracking

Less than 24 hours after councillors refused Cuadrilla’s application to frack in Lancashire, MPs called for multiple new conditions on the process.

In a debate this morning, they argued for buffer zones between sites, water and waste recycling, apprenticeships, blight compensation, independent monitoring, bans on fracking in National Parks and other protected areas, full publication of a redacted government report, greater public reassurance, more analysis, reduced traffic and a promise to stop if things wrong.

Labour said there should be no fracking until its conditions, discussed but not fully adopted during the passage of the Infrastructure Act, were reinstated.

Kevin Hollinrake

Today’s debate was called by Kevin Hollinrake, the new Conservative MP for Thirsk and Malton, where Third Energy wants to frack its well at Kirby Misperton. The company has said it might drill 950 wells in what would be a third of the constituency.

Mr Hollinrake said he had been to a local meeting about fracking at which 44 people were against fracking and six had an open mind.

“These people are not professional campaigners: they are decent local people, desperately worried that fracking will change their lives forever, and not for better”, he said.

“Their concerns mainly centre on safety—the potential for contamination of water supplies and air pollution—during production and after the producer has made their money and left; the spoiling of countryside by drilling rigs, noise and light pollution and lorry movements; and, at the end of the day, who cleans up and who pays up if things go wrong.”

He said the government’s refusal “in the public interest” to release a full version of the redacted report by Defra on the impact of shale in rural areas had “led many members of the public to feel that they are being deceived, patronised or treated with contempt”.

Demands

He called for:

  • Six mile buffer zones between two sites
  • No production of shale gas in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, National Parks, ancient woodlands and Sites of Special Scientific Interest
  • Truly independent monitoring and publicly-available analysis
  • Water recycling and a solution to disposal to reduce traffic
  • Blight compensation for directly affected communities
  • Release of an unredacted version of the Defra report
  • Clear willingness to stop if lives and livelihoods are affected to unacceptable levels
  • Clear answer to the question who pays if the worst happens.

“We need to take the public with us”, he said, “consult, provide expert scientific information and ensure that people do not feel they are being pushed or manipulated”

Labour’s conditions

The shadow energy minister, Julie Elliott, accused the government of watering down Labour’s proposals in the Infrastructure Bill to regulate fracking. She said:

“They weakened regulations to prevent fracking under protected areas such as national parks, dropping our proposal to prevent fracking “within or under” protected areas. Instead, they indicated that they would block fracking only “within” them, creating the prospect that protected areas such as areas of outstanding natural beauty and national parks could be ringed by operators fracking underneath them. They dropped requirements for operators to notify all residents individually of potential developments, and to monitor all fugitive emissions—not just methane. Finally, they weakened regulations requiring an environmental impact assessment at all sites.”

“There should be no shale gas developments in the UK unless those protections are re-introduced”, she said. “Without that, people will not have the confidence they need and to which they are entitled.”

“The decisions made in Lancashire in the past few days and people’s concerns reflect the fact that the Government have repeatedly ignored genuine and legitimate public concern in a dash for shale gas at all costs.”

Realistic?

Labour’s Dr Alan Whitehead (Southampton Test) said to get 10% of gas need from shale, we were looking at 10,000 to 18,000 wells concentrated in two parts of the country, the Weald and north west England.

“We need to ask whether all that is a realistic prospect compared with the gain that might come from extracting the additional gas. It seems to me that, if that is what we want for our energy strategy, there will be a very high price to pay throughout the country for a marginal gain”.

Final say for communities

A Conservative, Kit Malthouse  (North West Hampshire) suggested to the Energy Minister, Andrea Leadsom, that local people should have the final say on fracking schemes:

“Given the Government’s statement last week that local communities should have the final say on wind energy, does she agree that there should be special rules for fracking.”

Cuadrilla in Balcombe

Another Conservative, Jeremy Quin, represents Horsham, which includes the West Sussex village of Balcombe, where there were protests when Cuadrilla drilled in 2013. He criticised Environment Agency plans to standardize permits for well testing.

“Anything that suggests a standard approach without particular consideration and monitoring will cause concern.”

“During Cuadrilla’s activities at Balcombe, he said “the concerns of many residents were far from being assuaged and, if the resource is to be exploited, public acceptance and support are critical. The Government must ensure that the public have complete confidence that their overriding concern remains the safety of their citizens around the sites.”

Look in more detail

John McNally (Falkirk) SNP said more analysis of the impacts of fracking was needed. He attended a conference and told the debate that after about an hour he asked himself:

“Why do we keep being told that our regulations are the best and safest in the world?” It reminded me of an anecdote about Sir Alex Ferguson, who when looking at a player he was interested in was told that there was no truth in the rumour that the player had injury problems; the first thing he thought was that he needed to look at the player in a great deal more detail”

Great deal more reassurance

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) Con said: “If we are going to stick to our principle that local people decide—I think we should—we are going to have to reassure them a great deal more about environmental safety, especially on water, and make sure that fracking is properly monitored.”

Ton Elliott (Fermanagh and South Tyrone) UUP said: “We have not been good at taking people with us. This would not happen, he said, unless it is shown that fracking is not harmful to the environment or public health and that it provides an economic benefit to local people.”

My constituents are not nimbys

The Conservative, Seema Kennedy, (South Ribble) called on companies to establish apprenticeships and for the government to introduce statutory “robust compensation for those whose homes and livelihoods are affected”.

“My constituents are not nimbys, but they want reassurance that fracking will not affect the quality of their land. They want concrete reassurances that their communities will be adequately compensated for any risks that they might face.”

Reassure and persuade

In reply, the energy minister, Andrea Leadsom, said: “They are not nimbys or luddites, but local communities who need to understand better. My priority will be to reassure them and, yes, to use an element of persuasion.”

She said the Defra report would be published and then members of the public could draw their own conclusions.

She added that the country would continue relying on gas for heat, as well as electricity generation, into the 2030s, despite renewables and additional nuclear capacity.

“Developing shale gas could make us less reliant on imports from abroad while providing more jobs and creating a whole new British industry. It is therefore vital that we seize the opportunity to at least explore the UK’s shale gas potential while maintaining the very highest safety and environmental standards, which we have established as world leaders in extracting oil and gas over decades.”

“We have been successfully regulating the gas and oil industry in the UK for over 50 years. Our regulatory system is robust and we are proven world leaders in well regulated, safe and environmentally sound oil and gas developments. We have strict requirements for on-site safety to prevent water contamination and air pollution and to mitigate seismic activity.”

9 replies »

  1. What drugs was Alan Whitehead on? 18000 wells at 8 million dollars each is 144 billion dollars. Sit down and think about that happening.

    • Tarrant County Texas is the same size as Cheshire at 900 square miles. In the period 2002 to 2012 12,000 wells were drilled and fracked in the Barnett Shale in Tarrant County. It would be interesting to hear the advocates of fracking provide robust estimates for the number of wells to be drilled and fracked and the quantity of hydrocarbons that number of wells would produce. See the physical impact of shale by looking at satellite images of the areas affected anywhere there is an unconventional gas field. Dr Whitehead’s number if anything is an understatement.

  2. 18000 wells and approx 6 million gallons of water per frac, … I know we’re not a dry country, but where is all that water coming from? Who is going to suffer in a drought? And where is the millions of gallons of contaminated flowback going to go?

  3. If Cuadrilla can’t even get on site going then how can they demonstrate the relative impact of the process. All of the talk means nothing if they don’t have commercial viable flow of gas. The Government needs to allow the two exploration sites to go ahead, with all the liability insurance and regulation and compensation in place, to demonstrate the impact of the development in real time by independent (both governmental agencies and private) monitoring the air, emission and environment impact during the life cycle of the site. These information are just as valuable to know as how gas much we can or cannot extract. Both side of the argument can speculate and debate as much as they want but at the end of the day real data and evidence from these two are the key to support the cases from either sides. Like a clinical medicine trial or new surgical procedure trial, you can extrapolate or speculate the risks and benefits on the basis of theory and deductions as much as they want, but they still have to do the trial with steps in places to minimize the risks to demonstrate if the procedure works.

  4. Having read most (if not all) the Lame Stream Media reportage on yesterday’s decison by LCC Councillors to reject Cuadrilla’s application to drill and frack at Preston New Road, it is evident that neither the industry, the Government nor the media come close to comprehending the magnitude of public knowledge and/or awareness of the dangers associated with the insidious unconventional gas industry!
    This morning’s two hour Westminster debate, called by Kevin Hollinrake MP (Con – Ryedale), to discuss the Unconventional gas agenda, bordered on farcical when all but one MP who spoke were clearly either not supportive of the Government’s ‘Dash for Gas’ or calling for extreme caution in going forward … Ironically, the lone openly supportive voice was Labour MP Graham Stringer (Blackley & Broughton), who sounded like he’d just had breakfast with Peter Lilley, Michael Fallon & Francis Egan … ” Over 1million wells drilled in USA … no contamination …. blah, blah, blah” … need for a National Infra-structure Plan … etc, etc!
    The last contributor to the debate was Andrea Leadsom MP (Con – South Northamptonshire), newly appointed Minister of State for Energy; who had the audacity to sit through the proceedings and still read the same pre-prepared statement that she had walked in with!! Ms Leadsom evidently didnt listen to one jot of what was said or if she did, her sole intention in being present was to steam roller the debate with her insipid monologue.
    Rather than bore you with a verbatim report of her statement, I’ll paraphrase. Basically she said, “F*ck You … we’re going to do it anyway … ‘cos we believe our own BS … Robust Regulatory Control … UK at the forefront of Engineering … blah, blah, blah …. and we’re going to bribe the plebs into submission …. so F*ck You!”
    Is anyone still in any doubt that we are in a sham of a democracy? The events of the past week are seminal but it’s not over yet, by any stretch of the imagination or wishful thinking. Ultimately WE all know that WE, the collective ‘WE’, will ensure that this Country is never fracked again … sadly, the Establishment is so out of touch, they just don’t get it!

  5. That’s all well and good but what about those people in Lancashire who cannot move or lose out while the experiment takes place? They need to be paid handsomely – a certain amount for all homeowners then a regular amount for anyone living in the area when it starts (ALskan dividend style). The mere talk has already blighted lives because we have no track record of safety in this new industry and the EA will not be competent or resourced enough to deal with it. I was pretty sure Dr Whitehead said the North East not North West. I think he or another also talked about the capability of anaerobic digester units to supply gas – still ugly but less risk to the water and could be screened. Yorkshire is a great tourist destination for domestic visitors which cuts air travel and helps reduce carbon and the energy demand. Largely because it is perhaps the most unspoilt part of the country (in the Northern section – the rest is already v industrial from coal and mining). Some defender of fracking said if it is not viable it won’t happen so no need to worry – we are more worried that when it’s not viable it will stop, having already done most of the damage. The NPPF requires all development affecting a “heritage asset” to be seen to be viable before gaining permission. If you don’t call two national parks and Yorkshire’s countryside a heritage asset then what is! We have just taken the new potash mine for the country in the National Park, now leave us alone and put a permanent ban on this – the only thing that will help now. Fracking is a short term answer, never the whole answer, and has been wildly overblown by proponents. We are not like the US. Keep the decisions rightly local and it won’t happen anywhere.

  6. Clinical medical trials and new surgical procedures are done with the full agreement of the person involved. It is not forced on them. Fracking would be being forced on people who do not want it.

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