In this Fracking Week in Westminster
- Peers discuss coal bed methane extraction in the Forest of Dean
- Questions on methane emissions from shale gas sites and funding for fracking
- ‘Permission in principle’ and fracking
- Kevin Hollinrake’s debate on shale gas and the economy
With thanks to TheyWorkForYou.com
Debate on coal bed methane extraction in the Forest of Dean, House of Lords
25th January 2016
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon, Labour
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the social and environmental impacts of the potential extraction of coal-bed methane on forests such as the Forest of Dean.
Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, Energy and Climate Change Minister
My Lords, as part of the 14th onshore oil and gas licensing round, Southwestern Energy Ltd was formally offered two petroleum exploration and development licences within an area encompassing the Forest of Dean, each earmarked for coal-bed methane development. A strategic environmental assessment was undertaken for all areas offered for licensing applications in that round.
My Lords, the hydrogeology of the forest is complex. The former mine workings are flooded, and there are still freeminers working underground. Labour introduced environmental safeguards for the Infrastructure Bill, but those has been downgraded, disregarded or weakened. The assessment to which the Minister referred is regarded by many to be flawed and inaccurate. Have there been independent risk assessments into coal methane extraction that consider all health and environmental impacts that have been observed elsewhere and have been considered specifically in relation to the Forest of Dean? If so, have they been made public? I would be grateful if I could have a meeting with the Minister and his officials, together with some colleagues from the Forest of Dean, to discuss this further.
My Lords, as I have previously mentioned to the noble Baroness, I am very happy to have that meeting along with officials. The system is extremely robust; this is but the first stage in the process. Consents will be needed before anything can go forward—for planning, from the Environment Agency, along with scrutiny by the Health and Safety Executive, an access agreement with the Coal Authority and consent to drill from the Oil and Gas Authority.
Lord Hayward, Conservative
Can my noble friend confirm that any application for coal-bed methane extraction will be subject to a full and rigorous process, which will include receiving all independent reports, following the same process as other forms as methane extraction applications?
My Lords, I can certainly confirm that that is the process. Only one commercially running coal-bed methane extraction operation is going on at the moment, and there have been no issues since 2007, when it started, with regard to health and safety or contamination.
Baroness Featherstone, Liberal Democrat
My Lords, what evidence-based case is there for applying far less stringent environmental controls and protections to coal-bed methane than to hydraulic fracturing?
My Lords, the process for coal-bed methane is essentially parallel with that for fracking. There are no separate considerations here—or in so far as they are separate, it is only because of the slightly different technology. Both have extremely robust systems. In addition, if fracking was involved where we have coal-bed methane, a separate system of protections and consents would be needed.
Baroness Young of Old Scone, Labour
My Lords, the Government rode rather roughshod over the environmental conditions that your Lordships’ House believed should be applied to fracking and responded by saying, “Oh well, in that case we’ll make sure that we protect areas of outstanding natural beauty and groundwater protection zones by doing it at 1,200 metres under those sites and no closer to the surface”. The coal seams in the Forest of Dean are at 450 metres from the surface, and many are much closer than that. Can the Minister confirm, or not, that the environmental restrictions that apply to fracking apply also to coal-bed methane extraction in the Forest of Dean—and, if not, what environmental protection conditions will apply? Was it wise to issue a licence when many of the environmental impacts had not been assessed in detail for this particular application until after the licence had been granted?
My Lords, coal-bed methane is not as deep as 1,200 metres. So, obviously, that is a separate consideration; we are not talking about fracking. In so far as there is fracking, if it is fracking in addition, there will be the additional protections that are available. But, as I have indicated, there are also planning consents, Environment Agency consents, Health and Safety Executive requirements, access agreements from the Coal Authority and consent to drill from the Oil and Gas Authority. We have a very effective, robust system of protections of which we can be proud.
The Bishop of St Albans
My Lords, this Question raises a much broader issue, which concerns many people, about the protection both of the ancient forest lands and of the forestry estates. Could the Minister update your Lordships’ House on what progress has been made towards the appointment of the new public forest body, which was the recommendation of the independent forestry report? If no progress has been made, what role is, for example, the Forestry Commission taking in protecting this land, which the public hold so dear and for which they have such great concern?
My Lords, I am always grateful for people exaggerating my powers, but this is very much outside my brief in relation to forestry. I will ensure that the right reverend Prelate gets a full response on the subject, and I know that the Government take it seriously.
Viscount Ridley, Conservative
My Lords, does the Minister agree that if this country had not switched to fossil fuels in the last couple of centuries, the Forest of Dean—and every other forest—would long ago have been cleared for fuel? I declare my energy interests as listed in the register.
My Lords, what I would say is that we, as a nation, must determine that we shall have secure energy, and energy that is not imported. If we do nothing about coal-bed methane or, more broadly, about fracking, by 2030 we will have to import 70% of our gas rather than the 45% that we import now.
25th January 2016
Question by Jessica Morden, Labour, Newport East, Opposition Whip (Commons)
To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, how much funding the Green Investment Bank has invested in fracking projects in the UK.
Reply by Anna Soubry, Business Minister of State
The Green Investment Bank has not invested in any fracking projects.
28th January 2016
Question by Michelle Donelan, Conservative, Chippenham
To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, what information her Department holds on (a) how much methane gas an average shale gas drilling site releases into the atmosphere and (b) what technology reduces the amount of methane gas so released.
Reply by Andrea Leadsom, Energy and Climate Change Minister
Research has shown that the carbon footprint of shale gas extraction and use is likely to be comparable to conventional sources of gas and lower than the carbon footprint of imported Liquefied Natural Gas. 
In order to make sure emissions are minimised, the Environment Agency has made ‘Green Completions’ to capture emissions from operations a requirement for Environmental Permits for shale gas production.
Additionally, operators must develop a Waste Management Plan setting out how waste gases including fugitive methane emissions will be minimised, managed and monitored, which is submitted to the Environment Agency with permit applications. The Environment Agency will also consider an enclosed flare to provide the best environmental performance for treatment of waste gases from onshore oil and gas operations during exploration.
We have one of the most robust regulatory regimes in the world for shale gas and we insist on high standards of health safety and environmental protection.
 Mackay-Stone report (requested by DECC), Potential Greenhouse Gas Emissions Associated with Shale Gas Extraction and Use, Sept 2013 https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/237330/MacKay_Stone_shale_study_report_09092013.pdf
Second reading of the Housing and Planning Bill in the House of Lords
26th January 2016
Extract of speech by Baroness Andrews, Labour, Deputy Chairman of Committees
Here [in the planning sections of the bill] what is proposed will, essentially, replace our democratic, plan-led system with its checks and balances with a system whereby, for brownfield sites, major planning applications will automatically be granted permission through what is called “permission in principle”. This will be able to be granted not just for housing but for waste disposal and fracking. At a stroke, it will reduce the right and the ability of local authorities to plan for the different needs of local areas —for those mixed communities of which the right reverend Prelate spoke so eloquently—and it will remove the ability of local people to influence local development. It is the opposite of what the noble Baroness says: it does not create certainty but rather uncertainty, and it does not create confidence.
Extract of a speech by Lord Beecham, Shadow Communities and Local Government Minister
The TCPA [Town and Country Planning Association] also questions the single consent scheme established by Clauses 136 and 137, under which the Secretary of State may grant permission in principle in respect of land allocated for development. This proposal is to be the subject of consultation. Perhaps the Minister will indicate when this will be concluded and whether the outcome will be available before we reach Report. Will the Minister clarify the effect of Clause 136? Will planning authorities be able to specify whether or not a site is subject to PIP, or will the Secretary of State be able to require them to specify housing land for this purpose? In any event, as the TCPA points out, land allocation is not the same as planning consent; it is the first step in a process that needs to involve detailed working through. There are also questions about this so-called zonal planning’s impact on a wide range of issues—from commercial to waste, or even perhaps fracking. What, if anything, will be excluded from the PIP process?
Extract of a speech by Baroness Williams of Trafford, Communities and Local Government Minister
The decision to grant planning permission in principle will be locally driven where a choice is made to allocate land for housing-led development in a local plan, neighbourhood plan and new brownfield register. This will promote plan-led development and ensure that decisions take place within a framework that includes the engagement of communities and others, as well as consideration of development against local and national policy, including important matters such as heritage and, of course, flooding. Allowing permission in principle to be granted for housing-led development will allow it to accommodate other uses that are compatible with residential areas such as retail, social and community uses. This will help to deliver the mixed and balanced communities that we want to see. However, the Government were clear in the other place that there is no intention to allow permission in principle to be granted for fracking.
Kevin Hollinrake’s Westminster Hall debate on the potential role of UK manufacturing in development of onshore oil and gas
26th January 2016
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