House of Commons Committee calls for fracking moratorium

Update: The government accepted changes to the Bill tabled by Labour including independent well inspection, monitoring of methane leaks and informing residents of local fracking and removing the clause allowing any substance to be left in the ground. Labour however abstained on the amendment for a fracking moratorium. Whilst the government also committed to cancelling licences if advised by the Committee on Climate Change that shale gas would not enable the UK to meet its climate change commitments, this does not robustly address the climate issue highlighted by the Environmental Audit Committee. Labour abstained from voting on the proposal for a moratorium.

Update: In a shambolic debate on the Infrastructure Bill today in the House of Commons MPs complained that they did not have time to debate the issues, that they didn’t know what they were voting on (as the government hadn’t tabled its amended amendment to one clause), that what was happening was undemocratic, MPs voted through changes to the trespass law (amongst other things). Other amendments were also rejected but as yet it is unclear what has really transpired. The government has conceded that fracking will be banned in National Parks, AONBs and SSSIs but the status of ancient wood land remains unclear. Other amendments and concessions were made but it may take a few days to really understand what has happened. The bill will now return to the House of Lords.

See:

Tories forced into U-turn on fast-track fracking after accepting Labour plans

Fracking to be banned in national parks, Government concedes

Update: David Cameron said today “We want to have greater energy security, we want to keep prices down, we also want to tackle climate change.” Apart from George Osborne and the drilling companies it is hard to find anybody who agrees with this statement.

UpdateGeorge Osborne urges ministers to fast-track fracking measures in leaked letter


This morning (26 January 2015) the cross party House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee has published its report on the Environmental Risks of Fracking. The committee (7 Conservative,  6 Labour, 2 Liberal Democrat, 1 Green) concludes:

We called for a moratorium on fracking because it cannot be accommodated within our climate change obligations. A halt is also needed on environmental grounds, and it is essential that further independent studies into the impacts of fracking in the UK are completed to help resolve the environmental risk uncertainties. It is vital that the precautionary principle is applied. Until uncertainties are fully resolved, and the required regulatory and monitoring system improvements we identify are introduced, there should also be a moratorium on the extraction of unconventional gas through fracking on environmental grounds.

This evidence based cross-party Parliamentary report cuts through the spin and nonsense (cheap gas, transition fuel, etc) that has been used by the government to promote the fracking industry. Hopefully it will inform the debate in Parliament on the infrastructure bill later today!

The committee also comes to the following conclusions (read the full report here):

  • “A moratorium on the extraction of unconventional gas through fracking is needed to avoid the UK’s carbon budgets being breached.” The Committee recognises that unconventional gas is likely to add to our greenhouse gas emissions rather than reduce them, meaning that we can’t stick to our legally binding climate change commitments. This can be done by amending the Infrastructure Bill – being debated today!
  • Fracking must be prohibited outright in protected and nationally important areas including National Parks, the Broads, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Sites of Special Scientific Interest and ancient woodland, and any land functionally linked to these areas.” Enough said.
  • The time required to develop an unconventional gas industry (10-15 years) means that unconventional gas would be competing not with unabated coal (which will largely have been phased out) but with renewables – making a nonsense of the transition-fuel argument for unconventional gas.
  • The changes to the law of trespass “has serious implications for citizens’ rights which could unnecessarily undermine the democratic process for objecting to development. On this issue, the public have spoken and the Government must listen.
  • Regulation of unconventional gas is not fully coordinated across government.
  • Environmental baselines should be in place and should inform licensing.
  • fracking should be prohibited in all [water] source protection zones
  • There must be clear and accessible public disclosure on the chemicals used in the exploration and production of shale gas, and the risks they potentially pose.”

Analysis can be found on Carbon Brief – MPs brand fracking ‘incompatible’ with UK climate targets

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Fracking in Lancashire – a threat to us all.

At the end of January, Lancashire Council will make a decision on whether to approve two fracking applications that have been made by Cuadrilla for exploration within PEDL 165.  This has serious consequences not only for Lancashire but for the rest of the UK, as approval there could set a precedent for the rest of the country.  ‘Frack Off says that ‘If approved these applications would permit the first use of high volume hydraulic fracturing for shale gas in the UK since Cuadrilla’s first frack at Preese Hall in Lancashire in 2011 (i).  Remember the earthquakes? 

On 16th January the Environment Agency granted environmental permits after what it describes as a ‘rigorous assessment’ of Cuadrilla’s applications (ii).  These permits will apparently ensure the safety of people, ground water and the environment from the effects of mining waste, gas flaring, radioactive material and chemical pollutants that will arise as part of the fracking process.  At a time when the Government is offering assurances that fracking is a safe process, with appropriate regulations and monitoring in place, Defra plans to ‘reduce regulatory and administrative burdens’ by reducing air quality monitoring and perhaps more interestingly, proposing to abolish air quality objectives for four pollutants, two of which are of concern in fracking (iv).  None of this makes sense.

You can object to Cuadrilla’s Planning Application via the following website where you will also find information about how to join the demonstration at Preston County Hall http://frackfreelancashire.org.uk/cms/?p=58

Related information:

http://frack-off.org.uk/new-lancashire-threat-cuadrillas-fracking-plans/

ii https://www.gov.uk/government/news/environment-agency-grants-shale-gas-permit-for-preston-new-road

iii http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jan/17/lancashire-fracking-revolution-uk-shale-gas-exploration-cuadrilla-fylde-blackpool

iv https://consult.defra.gov.uk/communications/laqm-review-next-steps/

Trespass and the Infrastructure Bill

The law of trespass prevents others from crossing your property boundary without permission, including beneath the ground surface. Drilling across your boundary, even at depth, currently requires your permission. However, the government is drafting legislation in the Infrastructure Bill which would give licence holders the right to cross your boundary and use your land below 300m for petroleum exploration and extraction purposes, including drilling, fracturing, placing infrastructure and passing any substance into it and leaving it there.

According to the government this doesn’t apply to coalbed methane exploration because the permission to drill under your property can already be grated through the Coal Authority.  American coalbed methane experts have suggested extracting coalbed methane in Somerset between 152m and 1,524m (500-5,000ft).

In Somerset there is the possibility for both coalbed methane and shale gas exploration and development. If you don’t agree with the government changing the rights of access and use to your land then you might want to consider signing a petition to MPs to that effect: Petition to MPs: Stop Cameron’s new fracking law! The bill will have its third reading in Parliament on the 26th of January.

There is an existing exploration licence on the Mendips and the rest of the area, including most of the Chew Valley, is currently up for grabs by the gas companies but we won’t know until later in the year if any new licenses will be granted.

A rally is being organised in Westminster, 12.30 – 3pm on the 26th January, for people to demonstrate their opposition to fracking in the Infrastructure Bill.  As well as the issue of trespass, there will be consideration of a proposal for an outright ban on fracking.