Fracking Week in Parliament
The government dismissed another call this week for an update of the review of research on the health impacts of shale gas extraction.
It was responding to a question by Sarah Wollaston, the Conservative chair of the health select committee. She asked whether the government had commissioned a new review from Public Health England of the research on shale gas impacts.
The health minister, Steve Brine, said PHE had no reason to change the conclusions it reached in 2014.
“Public Health England continues to review the evidence on the potential public health impacts of emissions associated with shale gas extraction and has not currently identified any significant evidence that would make it change its views stated in its 2014 Review.”
The 2014 PHE review concluded that risks to public health from emissions associated with shale gas emissions would be low if the operations were properly run and regulated. But it was criticised for looking only at studies on the direct emissions of chemicals and radioactive material.
The first version was also criticised for reviewing only studies published up to December 2012. A critique of the review by Paul Mobbs said this excluded 52 studies published in 2013. An update considered peer-reviewed or published reports up to January 2014 but concluded there were “no significant changes” to the original findings.
Debate on planning changes
Lee Rowley, the Conservative MP for North East Derbyshire, where Ineos wants to explore for shale gas, called this week for a parliamentary debate on government proposals to change the planning laws.
A consultation has opened (19 July 2018) on the proposal to make non-fracking exploration schemes permitted development. This means that, like small house extensions and change of use for offices, the schemes would not need to apply for planning permission. The change appears like to apply to plans like the one put forward by Ineos at Bramleymoor Lane in Mr Rowley’s constituency.
The government is also proposing classifying major shale gas production schemes as Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects. This means these schemes would be decided by a government minister, not local councillors.
Mr Rowley asked the leader of the house, Andrea Leadsom:
“Will the Minister consider giving Government time for a debate on shale gas and, in particular, proposed changes to permitted development rights?”
Ms Leadsom (right) said she supported the concept of shale gas as a further source of revenue and energy security. On the consultations, she said:
“We look forward to many stakeholders contributing to those consultations to ensure that planning decisions are fast but fair to all.”
Royal Society update
The energy minister, Claire Perry, avoided a direct answer to a question on whether government plans for shale gas extraction would take account of the Royal Society’s update on its 2012 report.
In her reply to Labour’s Rosie Cooper (West Lancasire), Ms Perry said:
“We are committed to ensuring a rigorous, evidence-based approach to shale gas extraction, and as such I welcome any new research that can further enhance our understanding and help inform our policy development.”
Policing fracking sites
There was also no direct answer to the question by Labour’s Alex Norris (Nottingham North) on what additional funding the Home Office had allocated to local police forces for policing fracking sites.
The Home Office minister, Nick Hurd, said Sussex had received £900,000 in 2014-15 (for policing protests at Balcombe) and a grant of £1.4m had gone to Lancashire for policing anti-fracking protests (at Preston New Road).
Mr Hurd added:
“The Home Office carefully considers requests for additional funding through Special Grant.”
With thanks to TheyWorkForYou.com for the transcripts
Question by Sarah Wollaston, Conservative, Totnes
To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, whether the government has commissioned a review of research relating to the health implications of shale gas extraction by any organisation since the 2015 general election.
Reply by Steve Brine, Conservative, Winchester, Health Minister
Public Health England continues to review the evidence on the potential public health impacts of emissions associated with shale gas extraction and has not currently identified any significant evidence that would make it change its views stated in its 2014 Review.
Written question, 20 July 2018, Link to transcript
Lee Rowley Conservative, North East Derbyshire
A few weeks ago, the Government announced that they were likely over the summer to consult on changes to the planning process for shale gas and fracking. There is a shale gas application in my constituency, and this is of concern to a number of residents in my part of the world. Will the Minister consider giving Government time for a debate on shale gas and, in particular, proposed changes to permitted development rights?
Reply by Andrea Leadsom, Conservative, South Northamptonshire, Leader of the House of Commons
My hon. Friend is right to raise this issue, and I am well aware that very often constituents have concerns. As an ex-Energy Minister, I can tell him that I am very supportive both of the concept of shale gas exploration and shale gas as a future source of revenue and energy security for this country and, importantly, of a very robust regulatory environment for shale gas. As he will know, the Government support shale gas exploration, and we are launching two consultations: one on the principle of including shale gas projects in the nationally significant infrastructure projects regime and the other on permitted development rights. We look forward to many stakeholders contributing to those consultations to ensure that planning decisions are fast but fair to all.
Question during Business of the House, 19 July 2018. Link to transcript
Rosie Cooper, Labour, West Lancashire
To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, if he will take account of the Royal Society’s update of its report of June 2012 on shale gas extraction before continuing his plans to extract such gas.
Reply by Claire Perry, Conservative, Devizes, Energy Minister
The Government has always been clear that shale gas development must be safe and environmentally sound. We are committed to ensuring a rigorous, evidence-based approach to shale gas extraction, and as such I welcome any new research that can further enhance our understanding and help inform our policy development.
Written question, 18 July 2018. Link to transcript
Alex Norris, Labour/Co-operative, Nottingham North
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, what additional funding his Department has allocated to local police forces for the policing of fracking sites.
Reply by Nick Hurd, Conservative, Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner, Home Office Minister
The Home Office awarded £900,000 in Special Grant funding to the Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner in 2014/15, and £1.4 million in Special Grant funding to the Lancashire Police and Crime Commissioner in 2017/18, for the costs of policing anti-fracking protests.
The Home Office carefully considers requests for additional funding through Special Grant.
Written question, 16 July 2018. Link to transcript