Fracking in the Infrastructure Bill 2015

On Monday 26 January 2015, the Commons Environmental Audit Committee published Environmental risks of frackingwhich concluded 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.

The Committee proposed some amendments to introduce a moratorium, linked to the Bill’s clauses aimed at setting a strategy to maximise fossil fuel extraction – see NC 68  and NC 69 in Notice of Amendments [up to 22 January 2015.

FoE Press Release: Members of powerful committee of MPs call for fracking moratorium [22 January 2015]

Later that day, the House of Commons spent a very short time debating amendments the Infrastructure Bill 2015 [Hansard 26 Jan 2015 : Column 574].

In my view, too little time was allocated to the debate – particular when it’s being considered that we are currently seeing a zombie Parliament [ BBC Wales Has Westminster become a zombie parliament? 29 Jan 2015].

Like many people, I was disappointed and confused by some of the Divisions on that day:

Division 137:
Infrastructure Bill — NC 01  — Environmental Permits for Hydraulic Fracturing Activities
Ayes: 223; Noes: 319 – Question accordingly negatived
Had it not been rejected this amendment would have introduced a provision explicitly requiring an environmental permit for hydraulic fracturing activities (otherwise known as “fracking”).

Division 138:
Infrastructure Bill — NC 02  — Shale Gas Extraction in Scotland — Devolution of Regulation to Scottish Parliament
Ayes: 231; Noes: 324 – Question accordingly negatived
Had it not been rejected this clause would have added the regulation of shale gas extraction in Scotland to a list of exceptions to the list of powers relating to oil and gas in Scotland “reserved” by the UK Parliament.

Division 139:
Infrastructure Bill — NC 09  — Moratorium on Onshore Unconventional Petroleum — Review Impacts of Exploitation
Ayes: 308; Noes: 54 – Question accordingly negatived
Had it not been rejected this amendment would have banbed the exploitation of unconventional petroleum (including “fracking”) for at least 18 months and not to require a review of the impact of such exploitation on climate change, the environment, the economy, and health and safety be carried out and published.

Labour’s NC 19 amendment was passed without going to Division because earlier in the debate Energy Minister Amber Rudd accepted the amendment:
“It is this Government’s view that we will accept new clause 19 here,” she said. “But we plan on looking to amend it in the Other Place to replace provision G on the depth with a view to put back the depth at the appropriate level for proper development.”

FoE Press Release: Public pressure forces Government retreat on fracking [26 January 2015]

EDIE.net: Infrastructure Bill: What it means and what they said [27 January 2015]

I asked Ben Bradshaw for some clarifications on the debate.

It seems that I wasn’t alone, and this is the composite letter I received.

Thank you for contacting me recently about shale gas extraction and the debate and votes on the issue on Monday January 26th during the final (Report) stages of the Government’s Infrastructure Bill. A number of constituents wrote to me about a number of the different amendments (New Clauses). I shall deal with them all.

Firstly, as you are probably aware, if you have studied this issue closely, there is no shale gas near Exeter. I’m attaching  [DECC’s The Unconventional Hydrocarbons Resources of Britain’s Onshore Basins – Shale Gas 2013, which contains ] a map of the distribution of shale gas in the UK, in case you haven’t seen it.

Shale gas distribution
Shale gas distribution

However, as far as those parts of the UK are concerned where there is shale gas, I am delighted that, faced with a Parliamentary defeat, the Government did a complete U-turn and accepted all of Labour’s demands in full. These were contained in New Clause 19, which prevents all shale gas development in the UK unless and until a series of stringent conditions are met.

These conditions and protections have been developed by Labour contained working with organisations including the RSPB, Friends of the Earth and the Local Government Association and drawing on work by Royal Academy of Engineering and other bodies. They:

  1. Prohibit shale gas extraction in groundwater protection zones.
  2. Require shale gas operators to individually notify residents of activity, rather than publishing a generic notice.
  3. Put the payment of community benefit onto a statutory footing.
  4. Introduce a presumption against development in Protected Areas.
  5. Prohibit the use of “any substance” in the frack fluid, as in current legislation.
  6. Ensure that decommissioned land is returned to a state required by the planning authority.
  7. Place an obligation on operators to monitor and report fugitive emissions.
  8. Empower local planning authorities to consider the cumulative impact of multiple developments in their area.
  9. Ensure that there is independent inspection of well integrity.
  10. Require 12 months of baseline assessments.
  11. Require all shale gas sites to conduct Environmental Impact Assessments
  12. Make water companies statutory consultees in the planning process.
  13. Extend the depth at which fracking could take place from 300m to 1000m.

Some of you wrote to me about New Clause 68 – tabled by my Labour colleague, Joan Walley, who chairs the Environment Audit Committee. Her committee published a report on shale gas extraction on the day of the debate. Joan did not push her New Clause to a vote, but Labour’s New Clause 19 delivers in practice everything that was contained in New Clause 68.

New Clause 51 on trespass, was not selected for debate and vote by the Speaker. We believe New Clause 19 deals with the concerns that motivated this New Clause in a more effective way.

Labour abstained on New Clause 9 because we considered it weaker than New Clause 19. New Clause 9 simply called for an 18 to 30 month moratorium during a “review”, with no conditionality attached as to what would happen after that and would have delivered no improvement at all in the regulatory framework.

Labour has always said that shale gas extraction should not happen unless we have a system of robust regulation and comprehensive inspection. This Government has consistently ignored people’s genuine and legitimate environmental concerns.

I’m extremely grateful to you and my other constituents who have contacted me about this issue and helped us keep the pressure on the Government.

The main danger now is that if the Tories win the election they will scrap all these safeguards. The only thing that can ensure this doesn’t happen and our environment remains protected will be the election of a Labour Government on May 7th.

Finally, it goes without saying that UK energy policy needs a massive shift towards low and zero carbon generation. I have been dismayed by the decline in the growth of the renewables sector under this Government. Labour is committed to revitalising the renewables sector and to a binding carbon reduction target by 2030.

I hope this is helpful, but if you have any other questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to get back in touch.

With very best wishes,

Ben Bradshaw

Notes
New Clause 68:
Joan Walley, Mark Lazarowicz, Caroline Lucas, Dr Matthew Offord, Mrs Caroline Spelman, Dr Alan Whitehead, Zac Goldsmith, Katy Clark,  Martin Caton, Dr Julian Hupper

Clause 37, page 39, line 17, leave out “the objective of maximising the economic recovery of UK petroleum, in particular through” and insert “not the objective of maximising the economic recovery of UK petroleum but ensuring that fossil fuelemissions are limited to the carbon budgets advised by the Committee on Climate Change and introducing a moratorium on the hydraulic fracturing of shale gas deposits in order to reduce the risk of carbon budgets being breached, in particular through—”

Member’s explanatory statement:
This reflects the conclusions from an inquiry into the Environmental risks of fracking by the Environmental Audit Committee, whose report is published on 26 January (Eighth Report, HC 856).

New Clause 69:
Joan Walley, Mark Lazarowicz, Caroline Lucas, Dr Matthew Offord, Mrs Caroline Spelman, Dr Alan Whitehead, Zac Goldsmith, Katy Clark,  Martin Caton, Dr Julian Hupper

Title, line 10, leave out “to make provision about maximising economic recovery of petroleum in the United Kingdom;”

Member’s explanatory statement:
This reflects the conclusions from an inquiry into the Environmental risks of fracking by the Environmental Audit Committee, whose report is published on 26 January (Eighth Report, HC 856).

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