No North-South divide on fracking – Lords urge

Two peers have urged the government to ensure the south is not treated differently from the north over exploration for shale oil and gas.

During a debate on fracking yesterday, Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (Green) asked why the area surrounding the Prime Minister’s Oxfordshire constituency had been excluded from last year’s sale of exploration licences.

Baroness Jones

Baroness Jones

Baroness Jones told the House of Lords: “For some reason, the area around the Prime Minister’s constituency of Witney appears to have been omitted in spite of being densely covered with quite promising seismic profiles.”

“I am curious about why that has happened if the Prime Minister is such a fan of fracking.”

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, for the government, said the 14th licensing round had been “independent”. He added: “She will be aware that most of the area for fracking gas is in Lancashire, Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire and, of course, the Prime Minister’s constituency is well south of that”.

The missing area around Witney was identified yesterday in an article by David Smythe, emeritus professor of geophysics at the University of Glasgow. Professor Smythe said the Witney area had been licensed for oil exploration in 1971 and 1981 and he added: “One of the seven UK regional seismic profiles compiled on behalf of DECC by the UK Onshore Geophysical Library runs right through Witney town”. Areas to the south of Witney were part of the 14th licensing round. Map

Baroness Farrington

Baroness Farrington

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton (Labour) then asked the government to ensure that southern England would not get any special protection from fracking for oil.

“I declare an interest as a Lancashire resident and a former Lancashire county councillor. I would like a cast-iron guarantee with regard to oil and gas that the south of England will not be protected more than the north”, she said.

Lord Bourne said: “I am happy to give that guarantee. The noble Baroness will be aware that in relation to the north, a wealth asset fund will be created from any exploitation of shale gas, but any treatment will be totally equitable throughout the United Kingdom.”

Another Labour peer, Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top asked the government whether it would give residents who oppose fracking the same right to block planning applications as those who object to wind farms.

Lord Bourne said the government believed a strong local element in decision-making was important.

The debate had been called by Lord Truscott. He asked, in the light of the refusals of planning permission by Lancashire County Council last month, whether the government planned to conduct a study on the impacts of fracking in the UK.

Lord Bourne said British procedures were the best in the world. “We have every reason to believe that fracking is totally safe and that any risks can be effectively managed”. He compared the danger from seismic activity to “slamming a wooden door”.

He also said: “It [fracking] will generate 60,000 British jobs. The other important point is that it provides secure energy. It will mean that in 2030, rather than having 75% of our gas imported, that figure will be down to 40%.”

In response to a question by Lord Wigley, Lord Bourne said powers over fracking licensing in Wales would be transferred to the Welsh Assembly in late 2016 or early 2017.

Hansard transcript of the debate

The EY report Getting Ready For Shale estimated “At peak, 64,500 jobs will be created”. The report identified the peak as the years 2024-2026.

The Institute of Directors in its Cuadrilla-funded report Getting Shale Gas Working  proposed a central scenario for a shale gas industry where UK gas imports fell to 37% by 2030.

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