Keep checking for live updates on the House of Commons 2nd Delegated Legislation Committee as it discusses regulations on fracking. About 40 MPs, including 18 members of the committee, are attending the hearing. For more details and membership of the committee click here
The committee votes on the regulations.
Andrea Leadsom says the regulations offer extra protections. These should be welcomed, she says.
Onshore gas wells are enclosed in steel and cement. They are very different from coal mines, she says.
“We will be making clear as soon as possible the specific policy on banning surface drilling in our most precious landscapes”, she says. It will include National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, she adds. All these rules will apply to hydraulic fracturing. These are not changes that will apply to the conventional oil and gas industry.
She says “It would be good to start with a limited number of wells. We need energy security, We need jobs, We need growth, We need to protect our environment”, she says.
“We have taken this extremely seriously”. She recommended members vote for the regulations.
Energy Minister, Andrea Leadsom, begins summing up
Caroline Lucas, Green, says the government has performed a spectacular u-turn, the result of which is damaging public trust. She says the Environmental Audit Committee called for a moratorium on fracking but if it were to go ahead it should be banned in all groundwater source protection zones.
She criticises the minister’s defence of shale gas on climate change grounds. Fracking is not compatible with securing a safe and habitable globe. “Building a new fossil fuel industry is the very last thing the UK should be doing”, she says.
Dennis Skinner, Labour, says he has come to the committee because there is an application in his constituency at Calow. “I am here to represent my constituents”, he says.
“Keep up the battle”, he says. “I am with you all the way. I’m against fracking in principal”, he says.
Tommy Sheppard SNP, says he watched the government head off calls for a moratorium during the Infrastructure Bill debates by saying areas would be protected from fracking. This builds distrust, he says, when there are changes later.
It is not good enough to defend the regulations by saying a balance had to be struck between protection and the needs of the industry, he adds. Environmental protection and public safety are paramount.
Kevin Foster, Conservative, welcomes that the government is “feeling its way” and that the regulations reflect this.
“On SSSIs, we are talking about the 15% that are not in National Parks and AONBs”. “There are layer upon layer of protection” for these areas, he says.
I hope the Minister will give the designated area communities reassurance.
Labour’s Graham Jones says: “I think it would be wrong to oppose fracking without evidence”.
But he says the report given to the committee on the regulations focusses more on financial benefits than the environmental costs. “I am deeply concerned that the whole emphasis of this report is completely the wrong way round”, he says.
The financial offer to people in shale gas areas is simply not good enough, he adds.
Nick Herbert, Conservative, says the question is whether it is damaging to drill from outside protected areas at depths of 1,200m. This is three times deeper than the height of water sources, he says. The opposition has not said if lateral drilling is damaging, he adds.
Special Sites of Scientific Interest already have protection in the planning system, he says.
“I see no evidence that fracking at 1,200m will be damaging. I have no reason to oppose the government.”
Callum McCaig, SNP, says people are deluded if they think what happens at 1,200m has no impact on the surface. He says he has great sympathy with MPs who have constituencies where fracking might happen. It would be logical to ban fracking under groundwater source protection areas.
Mr McCaig says he is pleased that there is a moratorium in Scotland to carry out scientific evidence base.
He says it is regretted that the debate is not happening on the floor of the House of Commons.
Michael Fabricant, Conservative, says he has concerns about the legislation. The earlier stages of fracking in the US that were not subject to robust regulation gave fracking a bad name. Fracking didn’t need to be a dirty business, he says. The Environment Agency has told him that if robust regulation is in place there is nothing to fear from fracking.
Mr Fabricant says he is concerned about the wellheads. They can cause considerable problems, he says, whether in protected areas or not, he says. “I will want assurance that there are regulations laid that will control where the drillheads are placed”.
“I think there has been a lot of hysteria about fracking, because they do not know enough about fracking.”
“Provided I can be assured robust regulations will be in place and there will be very strict controls on where the drillheads will be. If I do not receive those assurances there is a possibility that I may have to vote with the opposition.”
Committee resumes. More MPs join the hearing.
Labour’s Dr Alan Whitehead calls for the regulations to be withdrawn.
“This is not what was set out at the passing of the Act”, he says.
“This is a very serious diversion of the intentions of the Act and what those who were proposing it said at the time.”
This SI [Statutory Instrument – the technical name for the regulations] is either accidentally badly drafted or it has been deliberately written to drive a “coach and horses” through the law, Dr Whitehead says.
If MPs vote for the SI, they will be saying the protected areas have no protection, he adds.
Committee suspended for MPs to vote on the floor of the House of Commons. They will return in about half an hour.
Dennis Skinner Labour, says he used to work in pits. Drilling might cause to escape. The government want to be very careful about what they do with this. He described an escape of gas from a colliery. “We were lucky that no one was killed”, he said.”That’s what can happen”. “It is almost an exact replica of what can happen in a pit.” Cheers from Labour members.
Michael Fabricant, Conservative, raises a point of order on arrangements for a vote.
Dr Alan Whitehead, Labour, said it “defied believe” that the government was trying to separate above and underground activities. “It makes no sense”, he said.
The regulations arose from an amendment during the passage of the Infrastructure Bill, Dr Whitehead said: the amendment was modified but remained intact on prohibitions of fracking. The government had accepted no fracking in protected areas, he said. All that was needed was a definition of protected areas.
Energy Minister, Andrea Leadsom said: “Let me very clear: if the risks [of shale gas fracking] are deemed unacceptable, the regulators will not allow it to go ahead. Government is committed to review the regulations. It is for me and the government to make the case for shale and to reassure the public that it can be done safely.”
“Shale gas has a vital role to play in the UK’s energy future”.
The Energy Minister, Andrea Leadsom, says people are concerned that Sites of Special Scientific Interest are not included in the list of protected areas.
She says the government has considered how to protect SSSIs and it is confident there are already strong protections for them. “We are looking to define which areas to ban fracking at the surface”, she says Planning authorities would continue to consider the protection of SSSIs, she adds.
Andrea Leadsom, the Energy Minister, says fracking will not be allowed from the surface of National Parks and other protected areas. She says the governments intends to say where fracking will be banned at the surface. She says the scope of the regulations being discussed today are about the subsurface. They are not a “suitable vehicle” for defining areas where fracking at the surface is permitted. “Surface activities are not within the scope of these regulations”, she says..
Andrea Leadsom, Energy Minister, opens the meeting. She says: “This government has taken every step possible to safely exploit shale”.
She says shale gas could create an energy bridge to a low carbon future. It would also generate jobs and support industries.
“This is an industry at the very early beginnings. There is no fracking going on in the UK”.
Fracking would be banned at 1200m, That is 800m deeper than any groundwater sources, she says..
Mrs Leadsom says there has been “no attempt to smuggle through the regulations” by the Government.
She says protected areas are defined as National Parks, Areas of Natural Beauty, The Broads and World Heritage Sites.
“There has to be a balance between protection and stifling the nascent shale industry”, she says.
She adds that the government will bring forward proposals on protected areas at the surface in future..