Church of England has no official policy on fracking and is not seeking shale gas applications, parliament told

Fracking Week in Parliament


Photo: DrillOrDrop

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.

caroline-spelmanIn 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.

She said:

“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.”

She added:

“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”.

Rosie CooperThe 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

Greg ClarkAlso 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.

See full report on DrillOrDrop here

Shale gas and sustainability

Valerie Vaz MP

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.

AndreaLeadsomAndrea Leadsom (right) repeated the government’s support for shale gas as a transition to the UK’s zero carbon targets for electricity generation.

She said:

“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

21 replies »

  1. Ms Leadsom has rather dodged the question if the unsustainability of fracking is the issue, how can that be ignored in her reply relating to transitioning to a carbon zero state?And the U.K. can just get rid of coal and is getting rid of coal, it is not dependant on fracking. Linking the two is disingenuous to say the least. Getting rid of coal in 2025 is actually beyond the UK’s original target and given the government has failed on clean air standards and carbon budgets there is no way they could justify burning coal beyond 2025. Imports, renewables, hydro and nuclear can all take up the amount of power being generated by coal. Mind you this is the Minister that informed Parliament there would never be fracking on the edge of a village.

  2. KatT-why so concerned about the policy of the Tories? You know what it is in respect of fracking, and the same question being asked again and again simply proves some are just playing to the gallery. Nothing is changing.

    Nice to see the COE are more respectful of their flock who put their cash into their collections than the NT. This is not good news for the NT as it shows other landowners are quite aware of the risks of trying to prevent seismic testing, and so the NT have taken action knowing that. This could prove to be a costly mistake.

    • Interesting that one of the Six ex officio members of the Church Commissioners is The Rt Hon Theresa May, Prime Minister?

  3. Kat
    I am not sure that Angela said that fracked gas is required to get rid of coal. She says that coal is going, and we cannot move directly to renewables, so natural gas will be required for a while and fracked gas is an option.
    It is an option some people do not want to see, and would be happier for imported gas to do the bridging.
    If it were linked, then, if it were not commercial, we would have to keep coal?

    Re clean air targets …
    As there are very few remaining coal fired power stations left, and they are out in the east of England in the main ( Drax Units 4&6, Ratcliffe on Soar, West Burton A & Cottam ). The rest are cofiring or not doing much ( Eggborough, Fiddlers Ferry, Aberthaw).

    The Telegraph (Mapped … where pollution is killing most people. 28 Jan 2018) shows that poor air quality is not dependant, or related on proximity to coal fired power stations, but traffic and population density, with a helping hand from our predominant westerlies, good news for those who live in the west.

    So to link the need to shut coal fired power stations to the need to improve air quality standards is not quite right. Shutting the rump will not help, but it will help CO2 targets of course.

    Angela should not have said fracking would not be close to a village, as it is an undefined unit. She should be specific, as her idea of close may not be mine.

    • A curious declared neutrality from the COE?
      Particularly when similar situations regarding inequality and exploitation are so high on their agenda?
      It is always revealing to see what aspects are stressed and what aspects are left unsaid in these official declarations by the COE.
      That highlighting and underscoring of favourite hammers and anvils, and simultaneous censoring and avoidance of contradictory highly sensitive “never to be mentioned ” aspects that roundly overturn and contradict the declared stance we see consistently demonstrated by the anti anti industry front window proponents.
      The aspect that emerged from that stance was the danger of being sued for refusing to allow access to seismic testing.
      That in of itself is highly revealing of a “monetary only” position by the COE. No outrage at invaded and assaulted communities. No outrage at yet more assaults and exploitation on, in their terms, gods earth ecology and dwindling fossil fuel resources.
      No outrage on the vast escalation of pollution to local communities and the health of men women and children in UK and worldwide. No outrage on the corporate and governmental co-ordinated assault on the beautiful unspoilt but all too soon to become, “the desolate north” by direct industrial exploitation assault.
      No, the only aspect highlighted by the COE, is a monetary one?
      There must surely be better stands to be taken by the COE than the perceived threats to the money lenders in the temples aren’t there?

      Are the residents of this country to be sacrificed, mind body and soul on the alter of an entirely monetary theology?
      Where is the heart and soul of the COE?
      Has not history shown us what appeasement to oppressors and invaders results in?

      What have the Frackers ever done for us?

      Are there not enough examples of what happens when monetary gain or loss is the only subject for discussion as to the pros and cons of social, political, monetary,industrial and, it has to be said, religious integrity?
      Are we to be left in the greedy sticky hands of industrialists, corporatists, monetarists and political machinations of expediency?
      Or are there well established moral, ethical, social and, yes, it has to be said, religious aspects of this situation that should far outstrip mere monetary loss or gain?
      Or will nothing get done until the onshore industry decide to frack a church today?

  4. Seems the metropolitan “elite” have managed to increase pollution in London because it is trendy to install a wood burner! You have to wonder at the mentality. Are they out there searching the Parks for fuel? Err, no. It will be collected and transported by “serfs”, producing a large carbon footprint, so they can chatter away over their dinner parties as to how they are saving the planet.

    • There are enough bitter people in the world already Martin. How is such inverse snobbery going to help? ‘They’ (according to your sweeping generalisation) are in the wrong (a speculation or an absolute fact?)…. another ‘wrong’ to add to the pile. But two wrongs don’t make a right do they (or many wrongs). Where’s the argument?

  5. Is this the same Caroline Spelman who tried to sell off the Forestry Commission land to private corporations?

  6. Valerie Vaz has a question based on a flawed study about sustainability of gas. Of course she relies everyday on imported gas, which is much less sustainable than domestic gas. Another day, another contradiction.

    • EKT … local shale gas has yet to be proven deliverable let alone sustainable. Any statement to the contrary is pure speculation (to borrow Martin’s favorite expression).

  7. Greg Clark says ‘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.’
    What a pity Mr Clark had to be backed into a corner by concerted pressure before agreeing to this. Effective regulation should have meant this was a basic requirement a couple of years ago – and clearly communicated as such. Never mind waiting until a company is a third of a year past it’s LAST date to submit accounts to say so – for the second consecutive year. TE could well be swallowed up by INEOS, but until any such transaction is complete, the company applying to frack MUST be capable of paying to restore the site, paying for anything that goes wrong and monitoring wells after abandonment. Otherwise the cost will as usual fall on the taxpayer. I’ve not had any response either to my question, via my MP, about details of the company’s insurance cover, limitations and level of proof required (from perhaps a couple of miles underground). Neither has anyone else via questions and FOI requests. Why does it appear to be ‘commercially sensitive’ when it potentially affects every member of nearby communities and every taxpayer?

    • Mike, start looking into the costs that are going to be passed onto the taxpayer for cleaning up the North Sea. The onshore stuff is buttons in comparison.

  8. I thought air pollution was one of your issues PhilipP. Moving the goal posts now? Welcome away from the dark-side-one small step at a time.
    You really need to check what posts state before you try a “clever” riposte. Domestic gas is already being produced in the UK-see N.Sea and KM. No wonder extra recruits are required.

    • Try reading my response again Martin. I used the words ‘local shale gas’ not domestic gas (as if none was being used). If there’s any hypocrisy both sides should be wary of it. Pulling ancient hydrocarbons from deep strata and releasing their combustion products to the atmosphere is an issue of a different magnitude. Not to deny that there’s an issue with wood burners too but be careful about who are being the biggest hypocrites.

    • Good heavens. A rational comment GBK. Having an off day lad? So you’re saying that the private profits (as well as a decent wodge of tax that’s already long since spent) from the N Sea have already disappeared down the road and the vast clean up cost will fall to the taxpayer. You think that’s a fair arrangement do you? Perhaps you think it’s also acceptable to operate in a way that ultimately leads to such huge environmental damage that it needs a proportionately huge clean up. Neither cost effective, nor environmentally and sustainably acceptable to my mind. Only one planet and all that tree hugging, green blob baloney eh? Who needs it.
      Ergo, as the regulation for onshore is apparently based almost exclusively on offshore, it is seen as acceptable to have exactly the same arrangements for our future delectation with onshore fracking? I guess that’s stardard free market thinking. We can only hope that the govts previous cursory glance at PEDL license holders finances and future prospects for restoration will be substantially beefed up, although I can’t imagine that going down well with the corporate lobbyists and other chums.

      • Mike
        The regulation for onshore is not based exclusively on regulation for offshore. Much regulation in the uk applies to both onshore and offshore but there are also specific regulations for both of course.

        For example, onshore planning and offshore planning law is not the same. The environmental regs are different ( no so many bats out there, but more fish ), you need a spill plan inshore but an OPEP offshore, plus a near shore Spill plan if close enough. Offshore has a Safety Case regime, onshore has COMAH where required. Offshore has the Design and Construction regs, onshore does not, onshore has CDM, offshore does not.

        But for drilling there is more similarity as we’ll integrity is similar once you get drilling. Hence references to the offshore Well Design and construction Regulations to supplement the Borehole Sites and Operations Regs.

        However, there are no regs for offshore HVHP fracking as it’s not done offshore. The UK regs which address fracking apply to onshore alone at present.

        Re cost of decommissioning the N.Sea, it has been ongoing for a while, but low key and not a lot. BP decommissioned NW Hutton in 2008, and Southern North Sea operators are removing some of the small gas platforms that they have. Yes, the costs are set against the profits, but that is the same in all businesses I guess, just as renewing the offshore wind turbine Fleet will also be, when it’s time comes up for renewal.

        So far, no offshore company has failed and left the gov with the decommissioning bill.

  9. Your response was to EKT. Try reading his post-properly.

    I have no problem with wood burners, going back to my post, absolute great things if you are in a rural setting and the products of combustion can be easily and readily dispersed. Installation of wood burners within cities is just plain stupid. Obtaining a reasonable supply of fuel is difficult to do without utilising large amounts of energy to do so, and it is tantamount to each property having a bonfire going, in terms of air quality. That’s bad enough in the countryside but in a city is crazy.

    • I know, and I did. You didn’t, you tried to isolate my point ignoring the fact that it was a response to his – in effect referring to the domestic gas point incorrectly. No gotcha points there I’m afraid.

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