Politics

MPs quiz ministers on fracking baselines, monitoring, climate tests and planning changes

Fracking Week in Parliament 6-10 November 2017.

caroline Lucas 171107

Caroline Lucas, 7 November 2017. Photo: from Parliament TV

The Green Party’s MP, Caroline Lucas, pressed ministers this week on whether Third Energy’s plans for fracking at Kirby Misperton had passed tests required by the regulators.

Hydraulic fracturing at the North Yorkshire well cannot go ahead until it has final consent from the Business Secretary, Greg Clark.

In a series of parliamentary questions Dr Lucas asked:

  • When did officials meet Third Energy to discuss the hydraulic fracturing consent application
  • Was it Government policy to ensure baseline levels of environmental pollution were not exceeded before fracking went ahead
  • Would consent be refused because the Government had failed, in Dr Lucas’s view, to show that fracking tests from the Committee on Climate Change had been met
  • Did consent depend on regulators being satisfied that baseline pollution levels had not been exceeded

The questions follow a report, commissioned by Friends of the Earth, into baseline monitoring at Third Energy’s site. This concluded that Third Energy should be denied consent to frack because it had failed to carry out monitoring correctly. (DrillOrDrop report).

According to the report, Third Energy had not carried out groundwater tests properly for a full 12-month period as required by law. Only three of 24 monitoring rounds fully met the requirements of the company’s environmental permit, it said. There were also unexplained high levels of methane in a nearby aquifer. Third Energy said there had been no failure to carry out monitoring in accordance with its environmental permit.

Richard Harrington MPIn response to Dr Lucas, the Energy Minister, Richard Harrington, said:

“The Government supports the use of baseline monitoring, which can be valuable in showing local communities environmental conditions ahead of operations, and helps ensure a more rigorous post-operation assessment.”

He said all oil and gas licence holders must provide details of plans for 12 months’ monitoring of methane in groundwater.

Claire PerryOn the Committee on Climate Change tests, the Energy Minister, Claire Perry, said:

“I find it slightly odd that those who argue the loudest that people should accept the scientific basis for climate change refuse to have a conversation about the scientific basis that would prove or disprove the case for fracking.”

On the meeting with Third Energy, Mr Harrington said “Officials periodically meeting the shale gas industry.” He said the Business Secretary would “respond appropriately” to Third Energy’s application for fracking consent.

Alok Sharma MPIn other parliamentary discussion on fracking this week, the Communities Minister, Alok Sharma, confirmed it was government policy to make major shale planning decisions the responsibility of the National Planning Regime. This proposal was included in the Conservative Party manifesto, but not in the Queen’s Speech in June 2017.

justin madders mpJustin Madders (left), Labour MP for Ellesmere Port, in Cheshire, criticised proposals for a referendum on fracking applications in his constituency. He and fellow Cheshire MP Mike Amesbury are among speakers at an anti-fracking rally in Ellesmere Port on Saturday 18 November.

Mike AmesburyMr Amesbury (Weaver Vale) asked about parliamentary proposals on fracking. They were mentioned by Theresa May during Prime Ministers Questions last month. He also asked about environmental impacts of fracking.

The response, from the Environment Minister, Therese Coffey, included a reassurance regularly used by ministers:

“We have a robust regulatory regime in this country, which the Government has committed to keep under review as the industry develops.”

Transcripts

With thanks to TheyWorkForYou.com


Question by Caroline Lucas
Green, Brighton, Pavilion

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, pursuant to the Answer of 30 October 2017 to Question 109370, on fracking, and with reference to his Department’s hydraulic fracturing consent guidance, published in February 2017, whether licensees seeking hydraulic fracturing consent (HFC) will be required to provide details in environmental permit applications of proposed plans to undertake 12 months’ monitoring of the level of methane in groundwater in relation to (a) the current application for HFC for Ryedale, North Yorkshire and (b) all future such applications.

Reply by Richard Harrington
Energy minister, Conservative, Watford

Under section 4A of the Petroleum Act 1998, all licensees are required to provide details of proposed plans to undertake 12 months’ monitoring of the level of methane in groundwater, in line with the guidance[1] issued by the Department in February 2017. [1] https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/591631/Hydraulic_Fracturing_Consent_Guidance.pdf  Link to question and answer (9 November 2017)


Question by Julian Sturdy
Conservative, York Outer

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, what representations he has received from the general public expressing concerns on fracking for shale gas.

Reply by Richard Harrington
Energy minister, Conservative, Watford

The Department receives many letters from the general public regarding a wide range of issues. The Government continues to work closely with regulators and with the shale industry to ensure that any concerns the general public may be experiencing are appropriately addressed. Link to question and answer (9 November 2017)


Question by Mike Amesbury
Labour, Weaver Vale

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, pursuant to the Oral Answer of the Prime Minister to the hon. Member for Edinburgh East of 25 October 2017, what discussions he has had with the Prime Minister on the proposals to be brought to Parliament on fracking.

Reply by Therese Coffey
Environment Minister, Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

My Rt Hon Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has regular discussions with my Rt Hon Friend the Prime Minister around matters of environment policy. Link to question and answer  (8 November 2017)


Question by Mike Amesbury
Labour, Weaver Vale

To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, pursuant to the Oral Answer of the Prime Minister, Official Report, column 300, of 25 October 2017, what discussions he has had with the Prime Minister on the proposals to be brought to Parliament on fracking.

Reply by Alok Sharma
Communities and Local Government Minister, Conservative, Reading West

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has regular discussions with the Prime Minister around matters of planning policy. Link to question and answer (7 November 2017)


Question by Caroline Lucas
Green, Brighton, Pavilion

The Committee on Climate Change clearly states that fracking cannot be compatible with the UK’s climate change targets unless three key tests—on methane gas, on gas consumption and on carbon budgets—are met. Given that the Government have not shown that those tests can be met, will the Minister’s Department refuse consent for fracking in Ryedale, North Yorkshire, which is currently under consideration, or is she planning simply to ignore the advice from the Committee on Climate Change?

Reply by Claire Perry
Energy Minister, Conservative, Devises

We cannot comment on particular cases. Testing wells are being drilled at the moment, and we need to understand the scientific basis, so that we can prove or disprove these tests. I find it slightly odd that those who argue the loudest that people should accept the scientific basis for climate change refuse to have a conversation about the scientific basis that would prove or disprove the case for fracking. Link to question and answer (7 November 2017)


Question by Caroline Lucas
Green, Brighton, Pavilion

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, whether it is Government policy to ensure that baseline levels of environmental pollution prior to any fracking are not exceeded; and if he will make a statement.

Reply by Richard Harrington
Energy minister, Conservative, Watford

The Government supports the use of baseline monitoring, which can be valuable in showing local communities environmental conditions ahead of operations, and helps ensure a more rigorous post-operation assessment.

Environmental permits for shale gas sites set out conditions that require baseline monitoring as well as ongoing monitoring throughout operations. Baseline data is important in the understanding of existing local environmental conditions. Permit conditions seek to ensure that no unacceptable impacts are caused by operations on the environment.

In the event that pollution is detected that can be attributed to permitted activities on any given site, action will be required to remediate any impact. Link to question and answer (7 November 2017)


Question by Caroline Lucas
Green, Brighton, Pavilion

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, whether permission for the shale gas industry to proceed with a fracking operation under the environmental permitting regime can only be granted in the event that the regulatory authorities are satisfied that baseline levels of pollution are not exceeded.

Reply by Therese Coffey
Environment Minister, Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

Environment Agency permits for shale gas sites set out conditions that require baseline monitoring as well as ongoing monitoring throughout operations. Baseline data is important in the understanding of existing local environmental conditions.

The permit sets out the conditions for operators to follow so that their activities do not cause unacceptable impacts on the environment.

In the event that pollution is detected that can be attributed to permitted activities on the site, action will be required to remediate any impact and the operator may be subject to enforcement action. Link to question and answer (7 November 2017)


Question by Mike Amesbury
Labour, Weaver Vale

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what assessment his Department has made of the environmental effect of fracking.

Reply by Therese Coffey
Environment Minister, Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

In 2012, an independent review by the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering concluded that the environmental risks associated with hydraulic fracturing can be managed effectively in the UK if operational best practices are implemented and enforced through regulation. In 2013, the Environment Agency (EA) published ‘An Environmental Risk Assessment for Shale Gas Exploratory Operations in England’ on gov.uk, which reviewed the potential environmental risks and how they can be minimised and managed through environmental regulation. We have a robust regulatory regime in this country, which the Government has committed to keep under review as the industry develops. The EA carries out detailed site specific risk assessments where fracking is proposed and will not issue a permit unless it is satisfied that the risks can be managed. Link to question and answer (2 November 2017)


Question by Justin Madders
Shadow health minister, Labour, Ellesmere Port

A number of planning applications for fracking have recently been submitted in my constituency, causing much consternation locally. That has not been helped by a local political group arguing that councils should determine those applications by way of a local referendum. As the Leader of the House knows, that would be a deeply irresponsible move. Not only would such a decision not be effective, but it could leave a council open to a costly legal challenge. May we have a debate on the precise discretion that is available to councils to consider such controversial planning applications?

Reply by Andrea Leadsom
Leader of the House of Commons, Conservative, South Northamptonshire

I find myself instinctively agreeing with the hon. Gentleman. We need to find a way forward that takes into account strong local views about fracking while also weighing up the benefits to our economy. The economy absolutely needs to continue depending on gas as we transition to sources that involve lower carbon dioxide emissions, as we will need make that transition through a greater use of gas. There is a strong case—in terms of economics and climate change—for fracking, subject to very strong regulation, given that gas is available as a natural resource in the United Kingdom. We need to properly assess the balance between local views, which can be very negative, and the economic imperative for the nation. I encourage the hon. Gentleman to seek a Back-Bench debate so that others who have the same dilemma can also be heard. Link to question and answer  (2 November 2017)


Question by Justin Madders
Shadow health minister, Labour, Ellesmere Port

To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, whether it is his policy to ensure that major shale planning decisions are the responsibility of the National Planning Regime.

Reply by Alok Sharma
Communities and Local Government Minister, Conservative, Reading West

The Government’s position is clear that major shale planning decisions will be made the responsibility of the National Planning Regime. Link to question and answer  (2 November 2017)


Question by Caroline Lucas
Green, Brighton, Pavilion

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, pursuant to the Answer of 30 October 2017 to Question 109369, on what date officials met Third Energy to discuss its application for hydraulic fracturing consent for the KM8 wellsite in Ryedale, North Yorkshire; what the purpose of that meeting was; and if he will make a statement.

Reply by Richard Harrington
Energy minister, Conservative, Watford

Officials periodically meet the shale gas industry (including Third Energy) to discuss progress; part of those discussions have included applications for hydraulic fracturing consent, which were framed around the Department’s guidance document on the matter[1]. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will respond appropriately to Third Energy’s application in due course. [1] https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/591631/Hydraulic_Fracturing_Consent_Guidance.pdf    Link to question and answer  (2 November 2017)

29 replies »

  1. ‘He said all oil and gas licence holders must provide details of plans for 12 months’ monitoring of methane in groundwater.’ predictably this Energy Minister, Richard Harrington has bowed out; ‘plans’ does not confirm action.

  2. Very well done Caroline Lucas. I hope it has also been pointed out to the Business Sec. Greg Clark that Third Energy haven’t yet filed their annual audit (last I heard anyway, a few days ago) – which is supposed to be an essential condition of his being able to give consent …

    • On the contrary, Martin, Ms Perry’s statement to the effect that those opposed to fracking refuse to engage on the science is not borne out by fact. Or to put it another way, this is itself an example of obfuscation. If one can make the accusation often enough it will be accepted as truth. This is little more than propaganda. Leonard Schapiro, writing on Stalinism, warned us that ‘the true object of propaganda is neither to convince nor even to persuade. But to produce a uniform pattern of public utterances in which the first trace of unorthodox thought reveals itself as a jarring dissonance.’ Quoted by Varoufakis ‘And the weak suffer what they must.”
      This being so, we might hope that Ms. Perry’s future is behind her!

      • iath1720, can you provide any scientific proof whatsoever that demonstrates fracking has led to widespread negative health impacts? The answer is no, and this is backed by studies from the EPA, RAE, Royal Society, USGS, BGS, the National Academy of Sciences, and the Dept of Energy’s National Technology Laboratory, to name a few. The only “science” that backs your point of view is published with the backing of advocacy groups, and does not adhere to the Scientific Method.

        Fracking and gas extraction have caused pollution of the immediate environment in a limited number of isolated cases. Yet society has backed fracking because the massive benefits of the technology outweigh these minor costs by a wide margin. Scientific study points to the fact that fracking has helped reduce GHG emissions and cleaned the air in the US. In fact the US has made far more progress along these lines than any European country, despite Europe’s massive subsidies to inefficient renewable energy sources.

        Science will win in the end and fracking will prevail, but it may take awhile in places such as Scotland. https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/government-adviser-accuses-snp-of-ignoring-science-over-fracking-ban-kgf98t3cr

        • Take your pick Eatkaletoday.

          FRACKING DANGERS

          http://www.psr.org/environment-and-health/hydraulic-fracturing.html?referrer=http://www.psr.org/?referrer=https://www.google.com/?referrer=https://www.google.co.uk/

          Many, MANY reports available if required . Please just ask

          PS……… You are wrong about the United States, EPA… Even the financially kneecaped EPA, under extreme pressure from Oil and Gas Chums in the Senate. …… STILL FOUND evidence of contamination.

          • jack, I didn’t demand to see evidence from an advocacy group such as PSR. That’s just useless wallpaper, imo.

            The EPA did not find evidence of widespread contamination. They noted that the only evidence they found pointed to isolated cases, and none of those cases actually involved the act of fracking. Instead, they were about poor well completion, spills, and poor or non existent liners.

            • There’s an awful lot of isolated cases Ekt, and you’ve just joined the group of absurdists who argue that you can talk about the part of the operation that happens 4000plus feet underground in isolation from other parts of the end-to-end practice that everyone (else) is clearly referring to as as ‘fracking’. Similarly ‘imo’ just isn’t good enough to dismiss substantial papers that raise serious concerns, nor is labeling as cranks (as you seemingly would like to) all the hundreds of suburban mums and dads and Jo Shmo house owners who, after going along with the promises of of fracking – as being good for everyone – are now testifying to all the problems arising from it. Is that kind of name-calling that people in this country have to look forward to when they noticing the impacts? Maybe they’re just smarter than you think and prefer to raise their voices in advance.

        • Eatkaletoday The question I have is – what are you basing your sweeping statement about all those organisations (offering a clean bill of health for fracking) on? When you dig into those you will find all the caveats, and the risks are spelled out quite clearly in the UK EA’s risk assessment guidelines.

          Besides issues like increased hospitalization rates of populations near gas-fields in the USA and unresolved complaints (by the thousand) there are many science and engineering studies (both in the US and globally) and most will highlight the following risks:
          -contamination of ground water, and possibly even drinking water, with natural gas and other chemicals;
          -earthquakes induced by slippage in nearby faults;
          -emissions of volatile components, such as CO2 or methane, into the atmosphere;
          -the leakage of contaminated drilling waste fluid from storage ponds.

          Why do you think so many countries in Europe and and at least three states in the U.S, and many more counties have banned it?

          Health and pollution risks, environmental degradation and methane (and other) emissions are the main factors (for those countries who study take serious note of the science and engineering studies).

          I’ve added just a couple of links 1/ a study of the causal connections between gas wells and groundwater contamination and 2/ impact on a local community’s drinking water (culpability denied – as ever – by the gas and water companies) N.B. I’ve lost count of the number of accounts I’ve seen of this kind. It is simply implausible that these are all cranks and activists coming up with these stories.

          1/ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4191804/
          2/ http://www.wfaa.com/news/local/investigates/new-water-concerns-bubble-up-in-barnett-shale/124983318

          • Philip,

            There is no doubt that these studies highlight risks associated with fracking. Those risks do exist as with any heavy industrial operation. But the studies acknowledge that the risks are manageable.

            I would be interested to see evidence of increased hospitalization rates near gas fields. How large is the sample size? What is the baseline data and how robust is it? What is the background rate and observed variance? How do the hospitalization rates compare with those observed in the general population?

            Why do you think that so many more countries/states/counties allow fracking than have banned it?

            If your contention is that countries that take note of serious science and engineering studies ban fracking, then why do the scientists who have led inquiries into fracking in areas that have banned it say that the government ignores the science and instead plays politics in banning the practice? https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/government-adviser-accuses-snp-of-ignoring-science-over-fracking-ban-kgf98t3cr

            You cite environmental pollution and methane emissions as key reasons for banning fracking. Can you explain why it is that the country that has led the industrialized world in lowering co2 and GHG emissions is also the most aggressive nation in embracing fracking? Wouldn’t this contradict your assertion?

            Why is it that you come up with crankpot evidence to support your contention while on the other side there is real science from the EPA, NAS, RAE, Royal Society, and others?

            Thank you

            • What crack pot evidence are you talking about EKT? You’d need to dig a bit deeper on the Times piece too, to make a convincing argument. Many a scientist can be bought to release an opinion piece these days and using the the old tried and tested formula of making a statement to the press and then believing what you read in the papers (and expecting everyone else to) is a clever bit of political shtick that’s been playing on public opinion for years. It’s meaningless. Please point to your ‘real science’.

    • Well she couldn’t have a future behind her could she?
      Although the onshore ohandgee invaders seem to be trying to do just that?
      The question is, what kind of future?
      Frackboots or Freedom?

  3. Is Claire Perry suggesting that those opposing fracking are refusing to have a conversation about the scientific basis for/against it? That seems like quite a confused statement.

    Anyway, key questions here are about whether baselines have been clearly established in advance according to the EA guidelines (which are quite explicit on the 12 months bit) and about what the unusually high pre-existing methane measurements can be attributed to – if not Third Energy’s previous activities. If those questions can’t be answered scientifically, and independently verified then what hope it there for the real science and regulation in this country to deal with all the evasions and obfuscation used by by the fracking promoters?

  4. The scientific basis for evaluation of fracking in the UK, requires controlled, test, fracking in UK. That is pretty clear and obvious. (Well, it is to Claire Perry.) Trying to suggest all gas fields should be closed down, and many other sites across the UK where methane can be found to avoid one well yet to be tested, is really not that scientific, but a desperate last attempt to stop a test that could actually prove to be the biggest non event. If some feel these games have not been foreseen, they are misguided. Skinnergate was all a little too obvious.

    These tests will happen. The attempts to stop them merely indicates the concern that the antis have that they might actually be a success, and a non event, at the same time. If they didn’t, they would welcome them to prove their points in practice.The public remembers from a short while ago the desperate attempts with claims of disaster ahead of another event. It became nonsensical, obvious, and turned opinion in the opposite direction, and this is where we are reference testing of fracking in the UK. Facts will be produced. They may confirm the speculation and fabrication, they may not. Even the “mighty” Prof. should support that as a scientific basis.

    • Why let the tiger out of the cage to test the new lock down procedure? The safety process is in place, the tiger is contained. Why not just trust the evidence that the voyeurs will be safe rather than put the tiger in a position where it will cause harm?

      • You’re missing the point,Martin: climate science has demonstrated that success for the industry is failure for the planet. If you’re a denier of climate change, then you are on a scientifically sticky wicket, but you do have at least one powerful friend.

  5. I bets none of our little anti residents on here read the last Green Party manifesto? It was actually a really scary insight into the weird ideas they have.
    A lot of lost souls end up in the GP, it’s a bit like a cult. Partick Harvey in Scotland is another one, the scary thing is he is dictating policy to the SNP at the moment.
    Lucas is probably one of the biggest hypocrites you can get. She wants to legalise brothels yet used to wear t-shirts in an attempt to ban page 3 photos in the Sun.
    Anyway luckily their are an insignificant bunch on the grand scale.

    • GBK, you really need to understand the method behind what you call madness.
      To legalise brothels is not about a judgement of existence, but an acceptance of reality therefore, the need to protect he occupants from slavery, exploitation and human trafficking and to help their health and well being.

      ‘Anyway luckily their are an insignificant bunch on the grand scale’, this is an understatement on the ‘grandest’ scale. Although not a main party, they have had a significant positive and proportionately larger than membership effect on environmental, humanitarian and political issues here in the UK and around the world.

  6. For your own self reflection GBK – are you even aware of the tabloid shock tactics you employ? Here’s a wee bit of analysis on your last reply. Keywords: ‘little anti residents’, ‘really scary’, ‘weird ideas’, ‘lost souls’, ‘cult’, ‘dictating policy’, ‘biggest hypocrite’, ‘an insignificant bunch on a grand scale’
    …. a not untypical blizzard of abuse from you then.
    I’d invite any more sober readers to treat such vapid, desperate tirades like water off a duck’s back.

    • It’s true Philip I do see you as generally an annoying bunch but you do amuse me time to time. Of course I understand what I’m writing and it’s not rocket science to work out derogatory terminology. But of course your lot also play the same game old chap.

    • Well I don’t belong to any such ‘bunch’, ‘party membership’ or ‘anti group’ that you target. I don’t personally know any of the other critics of fracking on this site and I conduct my research independently and I apply professional research experience wherever possible. So to me your attacks certainly fall like water off a duck’s back.

      If my findings overlap with those of the Green Party or FoE that’s coincidentally related, not causal as you’d like to impute. But perhaps the coincidences aren’t to be unexpected because the ‘truths’, from direct observation and front line research to the scientific papers, are all (as they say) out there.

  7. Probably the most pathetic answer to a direct question ever heard in Parliament (by someone other than Theresa May, whose disastrous performances mean that Prime Minister’s Question Time should be renamed Prime Minister’s Avoid-The-Question Time). The questions Caroline Lucas asked are real concerns about real scientific and regulatory failings, and for the Minister to just ignore the question in such a patronising manner is a microcosm of the government’s head-in-the-sand view of fracking in general, which is to Ignore the huge amount of evidence of its dangers and just say that regulations will protect everyone from everything. Now it’s clear that even the regulations are not being followed (e.g. the lack of 12 months’ baseline testing at KM8) and planning conditions are regularly flouted by the fracking companies with impunity. But with today’s Yorkshire Post highlighting the likely falls in house prices near fracking wells, this industry is only likely to get even less popular.
    http://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/lifestyle/homes-gardens/property-prices-look-set-to-fall-in-fracking-locations-1-8847135

    • Not to mention the increased rates of hospitalization of populations in or near gas-field/fracking zones, as observed in the US… the last thing our overstretched NHS needs.

  8. “We have a robust regulatory regime in this country…” I’m still waiting for any proof on this matter. The regulations are claimed to be world class; where’s the evidence? Seriously, where is the evidence? Or is it just government rhetoric, which, if said often enough, many will believe?

  9. I love the “loyalty” to CL. I’m sure she is a good constituency MP, but her performance in the House is poor. You can watch it quite easily-it is on the Parliamentary Channel. As soon as she stands up there are groans around the House, not just from the Tory benches.

    I remember before the recent election with her talking about the growth that the Greens would achieve, driving a “Progressive Alliance”. Where did that go to?

    Malcolm-check the north sea, you might find what you have lost there.

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