A parliamentary committee due to discuss government proposals for fracking in the UK’s most prized landscapes has just one member who might see drilling in his constituency.
The obscurely named Second Delegated Legislation committee meets on Tuesday afternoon (27th October 2015) to consider the Draft Onshore Hydraulic Fracturing (Protected Areas) Regulations 2015.
These regulations add definitions and more detail to the section of the Infrastructure Act covering fracking in protected areas.
Of the 18 members of the committee, only Harry Harpham, MP for Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough, could see fracking or other drilling operations in his constituency. All the rest are from areas where there are no current or planned oil and gas exploration licences.
Anti-fracking campaigners are now calling on MPs from across the country to exercise their right to attend the committee. MPs who are not committee members can speak during the discussions, although they cannot vote.
Promises and u-turns
Under The Infrastructure Act, fracking is prevented in protected areas. The draft regulations define protected areas as National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and World Heritage sites.
During the passage of the legislation, the then Energy Minister, Amber Rudd, promised to ban fracking in Sites of Special Scientific Interest, which include the UK’s leading wildlife sites. But when the regulations were published in July, just before MPs went on holiday, the definition did not include SSSIs.
Opponents of fracking have also criticised what they describe as a lack of control on fracking under and on the edge of National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust said the regulations appeared “very weak” and along with other campaign groups it is calling for a ban on fracking under, as well as from, these areas.
The Act allows horizontal drilling below National Parks and AONBs at a depth of below 1,200m. This limit is 200m deeper than in non-protected areas. WWT said this extra buffer provides “little in the way of protection for wetlands and water bodies further down the catchment.”
In January, the government accepted a Labour amendment to the Infrastructure Bill, which would have banned fracking in all groundwater source protection zones, areas designated to protect water aquifers.
But when the Act became law it prohibited fracking in what it called “protected groundwater source areas”. The regulations define these areas as:
- Land less than 1,200 below the surface
- Areas where the surface is within 50m of a drinking water abstraction point
- Areas within or above a zone that is 50-days travel time for water to reach an drinking water abstraction point
Frack Free Ryedale, which is fighting proposals by Third Energy to frack at Kirby Misperton, said today the draft regulations “clearly break” the promises the government made. It said:
“None of our special places are protected from fracking, despite the government’s hollow promises at the beginning of the year”.
Frack Free Ryedale is calling for a ban on fracking in all drinking water areas and designated protected areas.
What happens next?
When the committee has agreed to the regulations and any changes, they will be formally approved by the full House of Commons and Lords. There will not be a vote unless enough MPs shout “No”.
Friends of the Earth is asking supporters to encourage their MP to attend the Committee and to shout “no” to approving the regulations in the Commons.
Who’s on the committee?
The Conservatives, as the governing party, have a majority on the committee with 10 seats. They include two members of the government who would be expected to vote in favour of the draft regulations: the Energy Minister, Andrea Leadsom, and the assistant government whip, Julian Smith.
The other Conservative backbenchers are mainly from areas with little prospect of fracking, such as Devon, Cornwall, London and Northamptonshire. None of the Conservative constituencies include current hydrocarbon exploration licences. Nor do they include licences issued under the most recent 14th round.
Of the five Labour members on the committee, only Mr Harpham has licensed areas in his constituency. Another Labour member, Dr Alan Whitehead, has opposed fracking in previous parliamentary votes. The other members of the committee are two SNP MPs who joined the Commons in May.
The committee members were named on Wednesday and confirmed this morning. The list could change before the committee meets next week.
Steve Double, C, St Austell and Newqay
Chris Evans, L, Islwn
Michael Fabricant, C, Lichfield
Kevin Foster, C, Torbay
Dominic Grieve, C, Beaconsfield
David Hanson (chair), L, Delyn
Harry Harpham, L, Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough
Andrea Leadsom, C, South Northamptonshire
Holly Lynch, L, Halifax
Callum McCai , SNP, Aberdeen South
Sheryll Murray, C, South East Cornwall
Chris Philp, C, Croydon South
Tom Pursglove, C, Corby and East Northamptonshire
Tommy Sheppard, SNP, Edinburgh East
Julian Smith, C, Skipton and Ripon
Derek Thomas, C, St Ives
Chuka Umunna, L, Streatham
Alan Whitehead, L, Southampton Test
- The committee meets at 2.30pm on Tuesday 27th October in Committee Room 9 of the Palace of Westminster.