To shouts of “disgraceful” and “ridiculous”, Lancashire County Council voted to adjourn a debate on the regulation of earth tremors caused by fracking.
This afternoon’s full meeting of the council had been due to consider a motion welcoming government plans not to review the threshold for seismic activity at which fracking must stop.
But before the motion, introduced by Gina Dowding, could be discussed, an alternative vote was taken to stop the debate.
Conservative council leader, Geoff Driver, used a standing order (44/1) to introduce a procedural motion. He argued:
“The item has not been sufficiently discussed and it cannot be reasonably so discussed on this occasion.”
The meeting had previously heard concerns that current or potential members of the development control committee, which decides applications for shale gas sites, could be compromised if they voted either for or against the motion.
Cllr Dowding (Green) deleted a small section of the motion.
She said she had been advised that the revised wording would address the concerns and it would be acceptable.
But the incoming vice chair, Suzie Charles, who chaired this section of the meeting, said:
“I don’t think that it can be discussed because all 84 members [of the council] could be held to have pre-determined if any of us wanted to sit on development control.”
Members called for more advice from the council’s monitoring officer.
But Cllr Charles said:
“I have decided that we are going to a vote for the adjournment so we will go ahead with that vote right now.”
One person shouted:
“Never mind the people as long as the Conservatives are alright.”
The vote was 42 in favour of the adjournment, 33 against and 1 abstention.
The regulations on seismicity, known as the traffic light system, require operators to pause work if fracking induces activity at a magnitude of 0.5 or more.
Shale gas companies, Cuadrilla and Ineos, have called for a raising of the threshold after fracking at Preston New Road near Blackpool last year was paused five times by seismic activity.
But so far, the government has said it has no plans to review or change the threshold.
Cllr Dowding had argued in her motion that the county council should write to the energy minister and the prime minister welcoming this decision.
She said earth tremors “greatly exacerbate the health and environmental risks associated with shale gas exploration, testing and extraction”. She also said seismic activity threatened the integrity of a shale gas well and increased the risk of gas leakage into the subsurface.
She said Cuadrilla had accepted the 0.5ML threshold until now.
“The industry is saying we know enough to have a review of the regulations but all the industry has managed to do since the regulations were introduced is to partially frack one well.”
She said Cuadrilla had called for a threshold 31 times higher than the current level. The proposed level was described in 2012 as “undesirably high”, she said. Responding to the Conservative procedural motion, she said:
“It’s pretty shocking the lengths the Conservatives are going to in order to avoid taking a position on protecting residents’ health against the fracking industry.”