Fracking Week in Parliament
The Church of England has no formal policy on fracking and no plans to use its land for shale gas exploration, a senior official told parliament last week.
In response to a written question, Caroline Spelman said the church was not seeking applications for seismic testing or fracking.
Ms Spelman is the second Church Estates Commissioner, appointed by the crown to represent the Church Commissioners, the body managing Church of England property.
“The Church does not have an official position on fracking and recognises it’s a controversial and evolving issue and people within the church hold a range of views.”
“As a policy, The Church Commissioners do not seek applications for seismic drilling/exploration and fracking. Allowing seismic testing/exploratory drilling does not imply approval of fracking.”
But she said landowners who opposed a request for seismic surveys risked being taken to court and the Church Commissioners sought to “minimise this risk”.
The question was asked by the Labour MP, Rosie Cooper (right), who represents West Lancashire. Aurora Energy Resources sought agreement from landowners in this area for seismic testing. DrillOrDrop reported in 2016 that the Church Commissioners had entered negotiations with the company. At the time, the Church Commissioners said:
“The regulatory framework for these applications is weighted in favour of the company applying and landowners who withhold consent risk being ordered to allow access by the High Court”.
Ministerial statement on Third Energy
Also this week, Greg Clark, the Business Secretary issued a written ministerial statement about Third Energy’s application for fracking consent. This is required under the Infrastructure Act. Mr Clark noted that the company’s accounts were overdue. He said he had asked for checks by the Oil and Gas Authority and the Infrastructure and Property Authority on Third Energy’s financial resilience.
Shale gas and sustainability
The Shadow Leader of the House, Valerie Vaz (left), questioned the government on its support for shale gas when a study ranked the energy source as seventh out of nine on sustainability.
Andrea Leadsom (right) repeated the government’s support for shale gas as a transition to the UK’s zero carbon targets for electricity generation.
“From where we are today, we cannot simply get rid of coal from the system—we hope to do that by 2025—and move straight to lower carbon forms of energy generation. Gas will continue to be an important part of our transition towards a low-carbon future, and natural gas from fracking is one option that is open to the United Kingdom.”
Thanks to TheyWorkForYou.com for the transcripts
Question by Rosie Cooper, Labour, West Lancashire
To ask the Rt. Hon. Member for Meriden representing the Church Commissioners what the policy of the Church of England is on fracking on land owned by the Church of England.
Reply by Caroline Spelman, Conservative, Meriden, the Second Church Estates Commissioner
All oil and gas deposits in the UK are owned by the Crown. There are no plans for the Church Commissioners to use its land or mineral rights for the purpose of fracking.
As a policy, The Church Commissioners do not seek applications for seismic drilling/exploration and fracking. Allowing seismic testing/exploratory drilling does not imply approval of fracking, litigation risks arise for landowners should they wish to oppose a request to carry out geophysical surveys on their land. The Church Commissioners seek to minimise this risk.
The Church Commissioners are responsible landowners and landlords and we seek to protect both our interests and those of our tenants. The Church does not have an official position on fracking and recognises it’s a controversial and evolving issue and people within the church hold a range of views. The Church of England issued a Briefing Paper on Shale Gas and Fracking in December 2016 which can be found here: https://www.churchofengland.org/sites/default/files/2017-11/shale-gas-and-fracking.pdf
Written question, 25 January 2018, link to transcript
Extract of questions by Valerie Vaz, Labour, Walsall south, Shadow Leader of the House of Commons
We know that the Government are committed to the environment, because they said so in their 151-page document “A Green Future”, but amazingly, that document made no mention of fracking. I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to a new study, “Sustainability of UK shale gas in comparison with other electricity options”, which examines the environmental, economic and social sustainability of fracking. May we have a statement on why exploratory drilling is going ahead in Lancashire when the study ranked shale gas seventh out of nine different energy sources?
Extract of reply by Andrea Leadsom, Conservative, South Northamptonshire, Leader of the House of Commons
On the subject of fracking, it is clear that natural gas provided by fracking, with some of the world’s strongest and most careful regulation, is a way forward for the United Kingdom as we move towards zero-carbon targets for our electricity generation. From where we are today, we cannot simply get rid of coal from the system—we hope to do that by 2025—and move straight to lower carbon forms of energy generation. Gas will continue to be an important part of our transition towards a low-carbon future, and natural gas from fracking is one option that is open to the United Kingdom.
Business of the House of Commons, 25 January 2018, link to transcript
Written ministerial statement by Greg Clark, Conservative, Royal Tunbridge Wells, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Exploring and developing the UK’s shale gas resources could bring substantial benefits and the government’s view is that there is a national need to develop these resources in a safe, sustainable and timely way. As set out in the Clean Growth Strategy, the government is fully committed to the development and deployment of low carbon technologies for heat and electricity generation. As we move towards this low carbon economy, natural gas will continue to play an important role in our energy system. The government is confident that the right protections are in place to explore shale safely and has always been clear that shale development must be safe and environmentally sound.
On 29 November 2017 I issued a Direction to the Oil and Gas Authority. This Direction closed a loophole in instances where prospective shale gas wells had been drilled prior to the Infrastructure Act 2015 coming into force. It ensures that all operators proposing to hydraulically fracture a well are subjected to the same rigorous final step of scrutiny.
Third Energy UK Gas Limited’s proposals to hydraulically fracture its site in Kirby Misperton, North Yorkshire have been referred to me as a result. I am committed to ensuring that a meticulous approach, rooted in rigorous evidence, is taken when reviewing the application.
Having given careful consideration to the evidence submitted, I have informed the Oil and Gas Authority today that I am satisfied that the thirteen technical requirements set out in section 4A of the Petroleum Act 1998 have been met.
I also consider that an equivalent assessment should be undertaken of the financial resilience of companies proposing to carry out hydraulic fracturing operations so that stakeholders can have confidence in the company’s ability to meet its commitments.
I note that as of 24 January Third Energy UK Gas Limited and other related companies had yet to submit their accounts for the accounting period ending in December 2016, despite a statutory deadline of 30 September 2017 for them to do so. I have therefore asked the Oil and Gas Authority to seek further financial information from the company, including the required set of up-to-date accounts, to inform my decision.
I have also asked the Infrastructure and Projects Authority to assess the financial resilience of the applicant, including its ability to fund decommissioning costs. Once I have received this assessment I will inform the Oil and Gas Authority whether I am satisfied with the application as required by the 1998 Act.
The Government considers that the financial resilience of a company wishing to hydraulically fracture is a relevant consideration. As a matter of policy, we will therefore look at the financial resilience of all companies wishing to carry out hydraulic fracturing operations alongside their application for Hydraulic Fracturing Consent.
This statement has also been made in the House of Lords: HLWS420
Statement made 25 January 2018, link to transcript