Government faces major setback on fracking as MPs call for total ban

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Joan Walley, Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent, has said that Shale fracking should be put on hold in the UK because it is incompatible with our climate change targets and could pose significant localised environmental risks to public health.  Joan, who is also chair of the Environmental Audit Committee today said:

“Ultimately fracking cannot be compatible with our long-term commitments to cut climate changing emissions unless full-scale carbon capture and storage technology is rolled out rapidly, which currently looks unlikely. There are also huge uncertainties around the impact that fracking could have on water supplies, air quality and public health.”

“We cannot allow Britain’s national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty to be developed into oil and gas fields. Even if a national moratorium on shale drilling in the UK is not accepted there should be an outright ban on fracking in such special sites.”

“The Government is trying to rush through changes to the trespass laws that would allow companies to frack under people’s homes without permission. This is profoundly undemocratic and Parliament should protect the rights of citizens by throwing these changes out when they are debated later today.”

That is the conclusion of MPs on the cross-party Environmental Audit Committee, who are to amended the Government’s Infrastructure Bill in Parliament today.

A number of  backbench rebel Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are set to defy a three-line whip and vote in favour of amendments to the Government’s Infrastructure Bill that would effectively impose a moratorium on fracking in the UK.

The rebels include the former Cabinet minister Caroline Spelman and Home Office minister Norman Baker as well as a significant number of other MPs with constituencies in potential fracking zones who are worried that the issue could cost them their seats in May.

The backlash comes as the report from the cross-party Environmental Audit Committee concludes that fracking should be suspended in the UK because it poses significant health risks to locals and makes it virtually impossible for the country to meets its carbon reduction targets.

The report conclusively expresses a call for :“a moratorium on the extraction of unconventional gas through fracking to avoid the UK’s carbon budgets being breached in the 2020s and beyond… The [forthcoming] infrastructure Bill should be amended to explicitly bar fracking of shale gas.”

Eight MPs on the Committee put forward the amendment to introduce a moratoriums, linked to the Bill’s clauses aimed at setting a strategy to maximise fossil fuel extraction: House of Commons notices of amendments: Infrastructure Bill (PDF 262KB) (see amendments 68 and 69)

Labour has also tabled an amendment to the Bill being debated today that would make it far harder for companies to obtain fracking licences. In a rare moment of cross party co-operation, the Scottish National Party has pledged to back the rebels in a move that could potentially inflict a defeat on the Government. Quite rightly so.

The Environmental Audit Committee report warns that only a very small fraction of our shale reserves can be safely burned if we are to keep global temperatures below 2 degrees. And that considerable uncertainties remain about the hazards fracking poses to groundwater quality, air quality, health and biodiversity. It points out that continually tightening carbon budgets under the Climate Change Act will have significantly curtailed the scope for fossil fuel energy by the time shale gas is likely to be commercially viable on a large scale.

The Committee is also calling for other changes to the Infrastructure Bill. Proposed changes to trespass law that would grant companies automatic right of access to land at depth should be removed from the Bill because they seriously undermine citizens’ rights and are not supported by the public. Fracking should also be prohibited outright in nationally important areas such as National Parks, the Broads, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, SSIs, ancient woodland.The Committee is also insisting that:

  • Licences and permits must not be issued if commercial operators cannot demonstrate sufficient resources and insurances to cover full liability in event of pollution incidents.
  • Venting of methane emissions is unacceptable. Full containment of methane must be mandated in all fracking permits and permissions.
  • To protect groundwater a minimum separation distance — between the shales being fracked and underground aquifers — should be defined and mandated.

Last Wednesday Cuadrilla received a blow to its plans to carry out the first fracking since the moratorium on it was lifted in 2012, when Lancashire planning officials recommended their councillors block the plan. The councillors are due to vote this week.

The Government has said it is going “all out” for developing a shale industry in the UK – claiming it would create jobs and growth, reduce energy prices and cut the country’s reliance on gas imports. See – George Osborne urges ministers to fast-track fracking measures in leaked letter.

The Infrastructure Bill includes measures to make it easier for energy companies to drill under people’s homes without their permission and allows them to leave “any substance” deep underground.

The Committee also criticised the changes to trespass laws to allow fracking without residents’permission as having serious implications for citizens’ rights, with Ms Walley quite rightly calling on Parliament to throw out the “profoundly undemocratic” proposals.

Fracking has been hailed by the Government as the solution to all of our energy needs, despite evidence to the contrary. We know that although it may well be good for your own bank account, fracking is very bad for people, ecology and the environment. Cuadrilla’s UK operation was put on hold after causing tremors (small earthquakes), but the report by the UK Government’s advisers published in April 2012 gave the green light to fracking, despite acknowledging the link between the process and the earthquakes in Lancashire in 2011.

We know that the Government “advisory report” was funded in part by companies involved in the hydraulic fracturing industry, including Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon, BG Group and Schlumberger, and that raises some serious concerns about the impartiality of the report commissioned by the UK Government. (See also Frackademic scandals).

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See also: Frack off Lord Howell, you greedy, Tory, nasty, NIMBY snob.

Another myth debunked: Labour does NOT support the Tories on fracking

71407_222385347912521_137557564_nMany thanks to Robert @LivingstonePics for the pictures used.

Update: The successful part of the proposals regarding fracking, presented by various MPs were those presented by Labour regarding the introduction of rigorous safety criteria. I would have been happier to see a moratorium, however, the Environmental Audit Committee inquiry is ongoing, gathering evidence is important in policy-making. Meanwhile, the introduction of strict controls and regulations thanks to Labour means it is now extremely unlikely that the Tories can plough ahead with their plans to go ahead and frack this side of the General election.

From the Guardian: the government made a major U-turn on plans to fast-track UK fracking on Monday after accepting Labour proposals to tighten environmental regulations.

David Cameron had previously said the government was “going all out” for shale gas development, but widespread public concern and a looming defeat by worried Tory and Liberal Democrat backbenchers forced ministers to back down.

The Guardian revealed on Monday that George Osborne, the chancellor, was demanding “rapid progress” from cabinet ministers, including delivering the “asks” of fracking company Cuadrilla.

But the changes accepted by ministers would ban fracking in national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and in areas where drinking water is collected, with the amendments collectively ruling out significant regions of the UK’s shale gas deposits. The new regulations will slow down exploration by, for example, requiring at least a year of background monitoring before drilling can begin.

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