Labour-led Swansea Council has voted overwhelmingly to take a stand against fracking. It is the fifth council in under a fortnight to criticise the process (details).
At a meeting last night (28/1/2016), councillors agreed to a motion signalling they would oppose planning applications for unconventional exploration or extraction of gas.
No councillors voted against but three abstained.
The motion, proposed by Cllr Bob Clay, noted:
“There is a growing public concern that unconventional gas extraction entails significant risks to the environment and to the health and wellbeing of neighbouring communities.”
“There is also concern that exploration and extraction of fossil fuels by unconventional means undermines and diverts resources away from investment in a safe and secure renewable energy future.”
“There appears to be insufficient regulation and scrutiny of current unconventional gas extraction operations in the UK and as a consequence these operations risk irreversibly polluting fragile water courses and established nature and tourism.”
Swansea aspires to become fossil free by 2025 and the motion is being seen by council leaders as an important part of that policy. Last month,however, Swansea’s planning committee unanimously approved plans for coal bed methane exploration at Bryntywod (details)
Last night’s motion said the council was minded to adopt a policy which had a presumption against supporting planning applications for fracking and other forms of unconventional gas development.
The presumption includes test drilling, which is not covered by the Welsh Government Direction against approving fracking applications.
The council will consider a report in March on the implications of a change in planning policy on fracking. It will also write to the Welsh Government asking for the Direction to be extended to test drilling.
“No community has welcomed fracking”
The council heard a presentation by Keith Ross, of Frack Free Wales. He said:
“There is not a single community anywhere in the UK that has welcomed the process known as fracking. Local councils have received record-breaking levels of objection”.
Council leader, Rob Stewart, told The South Wales Evening Post:
“This sends a clear message that as a council we are investing in renewable reliable energy for the future. This is a statement about the ambition we have for renewable energy and the difference we can make to make sure that we have renewable energy, not just for this generation, but future generations.”
He told the paper that the motion meant the council could not block fracking in the area but it would make it much more difficult.
Cllr Clay said:
“This decision to make a serious effort to become 100 per cent renewable and fossil free by 2025 may turn out to be the greatest achievement of them all.”
Only one councillor, Ioan Richard, spoke against the motion. He said:
“This motion is probably put to gain the green vote. It’s a joke and I’m going to abstain. I’m not taking part in charades.”
After the meeting, Mr Ross said:
“This does not mean that fracking is banned in Swansea. There is still work to be done before we can confidently say that. But it does send a very strong message to the fracking companies that they are not welcome in the City and County of Swansea”.
Swansea Friends of the Earth spokesperson John Childs told Swansea Sound:
“We are delighted that Swansea Council has passed this “frack free” resolution have responded to the very real concerns of local people regarding the health, water pollution and other risks presented by this controversial technology. They have sent out a clear message that fracking and the extraction of methane gas is unwelcome and has no future in Swansea.”
Swansea Labour Party tweeted:
“Effect of fracking motion will be a ‘presumption that @Swansea Council will refuse ANY application to frack or test wells in Swansea.”
Full text of the motion
Council is minded to adopt a policy which would contain a presumption that as a matter of planning policy it would not support applications for the unconventional exploration or extraction of gas, including the practice commonly known as ‘Fracking’, within the City and County of Swansea. This would also include test drilling. This would not stop planning applications being made and would take the form of a rebuttable presumption with the individual circumstances of each case considered.
Welsh Government is clearly concerned about the issue of unconventional oil and gas extraction as it has issued the Town and Country Planning (Notification) (Unconventional Oil and Gas) (Wales) Direction 2015. The effect of this Direction is that no local authority can grant an application for unconventional extraction for a period of 21 days which is to give Welsh Government an opportunity to call in the application. The Direction does not apply to test drilling and Council is of the view that Welsh Government should consider the inclusion of test drilling within the Direction.
In taking this approach Council hopes that its commitment to a cleaner energy future will show the rest of Wales how important it is to protect our environment for future generations and to allow us to stand together with other progressive Local Authorities.
Council further resolves that:
1) The Head of Economic Regeneration and Planning prepare a detailed report for Council to consider in March setting out the implications and a recommendation as to the possibility of the adoption of a change to planning policy relating to unconventional oil and gas extraction.
2) The Head of Economic Regeneration and Planning write to Welsh Government to suggest that the Direction be extended to include drilling solely for the purposes of unconventional gas exploration and extraction.
Updated: 10.05 on 29/1/2016 to include reaction quote from Frack Free Wales