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.
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”.
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”
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.”
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.”