The Conservative MP for INEOS’s first proposed shale gas site has told the government “we do not want the kind of industrialisation this would bring”.
Speaking in a parliamentary debate this afternoon, Lee Rowley said 88,000 people had signed a petition against the company’s plans for the village of Marsh Lane in Derbyshire.
The planning application currently with the county council had received five thousand objections.
Mr Rowley narrowly defeated the pro-fracking Labour MP, Natascha Engel, to win North East Derbyshire at the last election.
He told MPs the INEOS proposal for an exploration well, though not fracking, was not a “minor incursion into a landscape”.
“This is a wholesale industrialisation of the Derbyshire countryside which has never, at least on public record, seen the kind of changes which are proposed here”.
He said he wanted to place on record his “complete and absolute opposition” to exploratory drilling that could lead to fracking in his constituency and at Marsh Lane.
“Residents in tears about shale gas plans”
“When I speak with residents I often find them in tears about this.”
The site off Bramleymoor Lane, a few hundred yards from a primary school playground, had been agricultural land for three centuries, he said.
INEOS proposed removing up to half a kilometre of hedgerow that had probably been there since the enclosures of 1795.
The proposed 60m drilling rig would be seen for miles around, he said, and what the planning application described as 17 bulky and highly visible items would remain onsite for up to five years. If the application were approved, there would be 14,000 vehicle movements over five years.
Mr Rowley said:
“Various road layouts leading up to the site will need to be configured, not because the cars that use them every day need that to happen but because the huge lorries that would need to come through to set this up can’t get round the corners.”
“Whatever your views on fracking, if there was ever a place for it not to go, it would be here.”
“Large imposing and disruptive”
He said the efforts to start shale gas exploration in the village, which has a population of 800, would be “large, imposing and disruptive”. Seven other towns and villages would also be affected.
Mr Rowley acknowledged the need to diversify energy sources and improve energy security. But he said:
“I don’t think we have understood the issues that will be created for residents living nearby, businesses who need to continue to work and operate on a daily basis and the communities who will live in the shadow of the kind of proposals that have been put forward like in north east Derbyshire.”
He said the biggest concern was the cumulative impact if the area were considered successful for fracking. Based on company information, there could be well pads every two kilometres, he said.
“Tens of thousands of vehicle movements, multiple fracking sites, a myriad of pipelines, all primarily in rural areas
“Whatever your view on fracking this is a wholesale change to our landscape and an even more pronounced industrialisation of an area.”
He said the Marsh Lane community were not nimbys and understood the need for energy security. But he said:
“We have looked at this proposal in our area and we have concluded that Bramleymoor is a thoroughly inappropriate place to undertake this activity. We have rationalised for good and honest reasons why we do not want the kind of industrialisation that this would bring.
“We are stronger together as a group and we stand with one voice and we say in unison we do not want the Bramleymoor Lane application, we do not need it and we shouldn’t have it.”
The energy minister, Richard Harrington, said he had no local knowledge of the site or the constituency. He also said he didn’t know about the application at Kirby Misperton in North Yorkshire, where Third Energy is waiting for final approval to frack from the Business Secretary, Greg Clark.
He said shale gas would bring local benefits, citing payments to community and a shale wealth fund. He added:
“It would obviously improve local jobs and tax revenues, etc”
Mr Harrington said there were “plenty of legal safeguards” for the environment and local people.
“There is a balance between supporting this industry and protecting the countryside and I do feel there is flexibility within the local planning system to ensure that the views of local communities are considered.”
“Other constituencies at risk”
A group of Labour MPs raised concerns about fracking in their constituencies, some with INEOS exploration licences. Louise Haigh, Sheffield Heeley, described the Bramleymoor Lane application as the “tip of the iceberg”. Areas surrounding the site in other constituencies, including urban ones, were considered “high risk”, she said.
Clive Betts (Sheffield South East) said an area of his constituency would be affected by traffic to the INEOS site at Bramleymoor Lane.
Rachael Maskell said it was vital to listen to the community and to environmental protectors, who, she said, were monitoring the Kirby Misperton site round the clock to “ensure that environmental standards were upheld”.
Ruth George (High Peak) said government policy in support of shale gas would overturn refusals of planning permission for shale gas sites and so the views of local communities were not being taken into account.
DrillOrDrop invited INEOS to respond to the comments made in the debate. Tom Pickering, the company’s operations director, said:
“At INEOS we are convinced the development of an indigenous shale industry is a once in a generation opportunity for the UK to reignite its manufacturing base and create jobs, stimulate economic growth and increase energy security. Both the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering say we can extract shale gas safely if best practice is followed, so in light of all this, I was disappointed by some of the debate I heard yesterday in parliament.
“For example, in the debate North East Derbyshire MP Lee Rowley admitted that there is a need to improve our energy diversity and security, and that we need to bridge the gap to renewables. He agreed that our increased dependence on imports is not desirable and that our current renewables energy provision is insufficient to plug the gap. Yet at the same time he said he didn’t want drilling near him. He said he wasn’t a nimby, but he didn’t say where the energy is supposed to come from that he admitted we need.
“Near Mr Rowley’s constituency is the former TATA steel works, now Liberty Speciality Steel in Rotherham. That business was only recently taken to the brink by among other things, high energy costs making production uncompetitive. If Liberty Steel had closed, it would have meant the loss of thousands of jobs both directly and in the supply chain, many of whom could have been Mr Rowley’s constituents. When there are potentially large shale gas reserves sitting under his constituency that could help provide stable and secure energy to businesses like Liberty Speciality Steel and Forgemasters, I believe it is the height of folly to ignore this because ultimately this is about real peoples jobs and the real energy security issue the nation faces.
“INEOS is totally committed to working with local communities and stakeholders to create a safe and sustainable shale gas industry that creates wealth and security for all, so I would ask all politicians to keep this mind in when debating this really important topic.”