partyleadersJeremy Corbyn has announced Labour will ban fracking; the Lib Dems and the Greens say the same, while Plaid Cymru and the SNP are likely to agree… so would some Conservative MPs, including the Tory MP for Bolton who has vowed he will not allow fracking in his Lancashire constituency.

But we can’t wait for a general election and one of these parties winning it – successive surveys show support for fracking decreasing, and opposition increasing. There is fierce opposition from an overwhelming majority of Lancashire, Yorkshire, Cheshire and Nottinghamshire residents (places in the fracking frontline, where local democracy is currently being stomped on by the Government and the agents of the Government – planners, regulatory authorities and the Secretary of State for Communities).

The question is, will our politicians just sit and wait for massive civil unrest to break out – as it surely will, if the drills arrive – or will they do the right thing and act now before all hell breaks loose?

Maybe Tim Farron and Jeremy Corbyn think that by pledging a fracking ban is a good way of getting votes – that the ban can only happen if you elect a Labour/ Lib Dem government? I would have a lot more respect for them if they actually fought for a ban now, this minute, not defer it to the post-awakening of a new dawn of compassionate politics and governance.

We can’t wait for a Utopia which we may – or may not – be permitted to vote for in a few years’ time. We need to destroy Dystopia now.

Private members’ bills largely result in failure but sometimes they do succeed – so what has a well-respected anti-fracking MP got to lose?

The Green Party is currently calling for a vote on fracking to be held in Parliament.

Good idea, but surely the most surefire way to defeat fracking is to change the law which makes recovery of gas and oil compulsory, which allows anywhere to be fracked under, and any substance to be left in the ground? Lawmaking (and tax-raising) is what Parliament is for.

And we anti-frackers would have more respect for Labour and Lib Dem if they put right the damage to democracy they helped to cause by letting the Infrastructure Bill sail through the Lords and Commons back in 2014, rushing to get it signed, sealed and delivered before the General Election.

Lest we forget, it was a Lib Dem peer – Baroness Kramer – who introduced the Infrastructure Bill in the Lords, and Labour peers such as Lord Adonis  and Lord Hollick who lubricated its quick passage – trawl through the ; there were precious few murmurs of dissent in either Parliamentary House about the unseemly rush and last-minute addition to this incredibly wide-ranging law of clauses to undo trespass laws, deregulate planning, and commit us to a frack-filled future by making “the economic recovery” of onshore oil and gas a “legal objective”. Incredibly as well, there was little dissent about the clause to permit “any substance to be left in the ground”.

In June 2014, Baroness Kramer was just doing her job as a junior Lib Dem partner in the Coalition Government when she introduced the Infrastructure Bill for its second reading, and thus got the ball rolling on the most boringly titled, least reported but farthest-reaching piece of legislation to affect our land since whenever:

We believe that shale gas and oil and deep geothermal energy may hold huge potential for adding to the UK’s energy sources, helping to improve energy security, create jobs and meet carbon targets. We consider that the existing procedure for gaining underground access to be burdensome and unfit for new methods of drilling. A public consultation on underground access was opened on 23 May and will conclude on 15 August.

Subject to that consultation, future amendments to the Bill would provide companies with access for shale and geothermal extraction 300 metres or more below the surface without requiring individual landowner permission. In return, a payment would be made to the community. As I said, the Government’s consultation on this policy continues until 15 August 2014 and the legislation is entirely dependent on the outcome of that consultation.

I am well aware, however, that some noble Lords are concerned about the potential environmental impact of extraction from shale. The UK has over 50 years’ experience of regulating the onshore oil and gas industry. More than 2,000 wells have been drilled onshore during that time. The Government are confident that the UK oil and gas industry, including shale gas, will continue to be well regulated and any risks, particularly environmental risks, will be effectively mitigated.This legislation is still being developed and will be made available at the earliest opportunity. It is our intention to introduce it before the end of Committee.

Labour’s Lord Adonis murmured support in response to Baroness Kramer’s introduction, noting:

On fracking, we do not have the provisions at the moment, as I said, but the Government have put it up in lights. If the intention is to put shale gas production in line with the coal industry, water and sewerage, all of which have access to underground land, then we welcome this in principle. I endorse the potential gains that the noble Baroness mentioned as being well worth securing if it is possible to develop shale gas in this way. But communities need to be reassured about impacts on the environment, including methane levels, contamination of the water table and seismic shifts.

They haven’t been assured or listened to… the results of the consultation were dismissed in that only one per cent of the general public, but the majority of the oil and gas industry, gave their consent to any public or private land being fracked under.

The bulk of the Labour, Lib Dems, Tories and UKIP at that point sided with a big industry and dismissed the great public, although it was already clear there was no social licence for fracking.

The Bill had already been agreed in principle by Lord Adonis and co before the clauses on fracking had even been published… what became Part 6 – Clauses 41 – 50 were tabled two months after the Bill’s progress had begun. And yet there were very few murmurs of discontent and alarm at the shortcuts in Parliamentary procedure from the supposedly highest court in the land (House of Lords).

But as this contribution from Labour’s Lord Hollis from November 2014: shows – all the parties were in agreement… just hurry up and dash for the gas:

 

My Lords, I was chair of the Economic Affairs Committee of your Lordships’ House during the inquiry into shale gas and oil. The committee wanted to be fully satisfied that the regulatory regime was equal to the task of protecting people and the environment. We took extensive evidence from regulators, academics, local communities, NGOs and exploration companies. We concluded that the regulations and the mandatory industry guidelines gave the regulators all the powers needed to ensure that the environment and the health and welfare of local communities could be effectively protected. The report in 2012 by the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering, already referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, came to exactly the same conclusion.

We heard from many witnesses that the current regulation of offshore and onshore gas and oil drilling in the UK is widely regarded as best in class. Four of the proposals in Amendment 113G are already covered by existing regulations or industry guidelines, and there is no need to gold-plate them and include them in the Bill. We on the committee endorsed the recommendation in Professor MacKay’s report that fugitive methane should be measured when shale gas extraction begins. The industry agreed to this. To impose a requirement to monitor over the previous 12-month period is quite unnecessary, and only extends an already far too long 16-month timetable to get permission to drill.

We also recommended in our report, as my noble friend has mentioned, that wellhead inspections should be carried out by independent inspectors. The Environment Agency and the Health and Safety Executive will indeed conduct job inspections but the well examiners will be employed by the companies. This was raised in the debate by the Minister last week, and she pointed out that the companies would provide these. One of the important things about regulation is that not only must it be independent but it must be seen to be independent. So why not ask the companies to foot the bill—if resources are a concern, and I suppose they are—for one of the agencies to carry out these independent inspections?

Our report identified that the tortuous and bureaucratic process to approve exploratory drilling is the major impediment to finding out whether or not the UK’s shale deposits are economically exploitable. It is regrettable that amendments were not tabled to address this serious problem, which has the merit of being supported by the facts and which would have commanded cross-party support. If passed, these amendments would add further complexity to an already devilishly complex and bureaucratic approval process, and will potentially extend the timetable by a further 12 months. Having lost the argument on the facts of the case, delay is now the main weapon of choice for those who oppose fracking. To add further delay to the exploration of shale gas would be a misstep.

Shale gas and shale oil could be a major boost to our economy; create jobs and preserve them; boost public and local finances; and halve emissions by replacing coal, which currently generates 40% of our electricity…

 

The majority of Miliband’s Labour refused to entertain Caroline Lucas’s call for a moratorium and instead went for “mitigation” and “minimising risk”, attempting to impose conditions. The Infrastructure Act was passed before the conditions were attached, and were watered down to be barely noticeable.

True to the Act’s provisions, the Secretary of State in October 2016 overturned a local authority’s decision based on reams of evidence, as the Infrastructure Act – which had near consensus from all three major parties – empowered him to.

In Ryedale, North Yorkshire and Misson, near Doncaster, on the Notts-Yorks border, planners recommended approval for fracking no matter that, in the latter’s case, the site is riddled with discarded and buried military ordnance – as the Infrastructure Act’s provisions, along with the National Planning Policy Framework, make it nigh impossible to refuse any application for oil and gas.

It’s right that people should question the logic and legality of planners and local councillors refusing to take into account public views, the cumulative impact, the lack of trust in decimated regulatory agencies, the economic failures regarding property prices, the lack of insurance provision, the potential of land collapse and permanent and widespread water pollution…

But even better that people put pressure on their MPs – particularly if they are Labour or Lib Dem – not just pledge to act but act and introduce or support a Parliamentary Bill of some description which will overturn/ repeal/ undo the most noxious, undemocratic and frankly dangerous provisions of the Infrastructure Act.

I for one will not have any faith in any of their “ban fracking” pledges until I see action. If you agree with me, get lobbying your MP to repeal Clauses 41 to 50 of the Infrastructure Act.

All of the following needs to be undone:

Clause 41 – which updated the 1998 Petroleum Act by including a statutory objective to “maximise the economic recovery of UK Petroleum” in collaboration with the oil and gas industry.

Clause 43 – “A person has the right to use deep-level land in any way for the purposes of exploiting petroleum…”

Clause 44:
(1)The ways in which the right of use may be exercised include—

(a)drilling, boring, fracturing or otherwise altering deep-level land;

(b)installing infrastructure in deep-level land;

(c)keeping, using or removing any infrastructure installed in deep-level land;

(d)passing any substance through, or putting any substance into, deep-level land or infrastructure installed in deep-level land;

(e)keeping, using or removing any substance put into deep-level land or into infrastructure installed in deep-level land.

(2)The purposes for which the right of use may be exercised include—

(a)searching for petroleum or deep geothermal energy;

(b)assessing the feasibility of exploiting petroleum or deep geothermal energy;

(c)preparing for exploiting petroleum or deep geothermal energy;

(d)decommissioning, and other activity which falls to be continued or undertaken, in consequence of activities undertaken for the purposes of exploiting petroleum or deep geothermal energy.

(3)The right of use includes the right to leave deep-level land in a different condition from the condition it was in before an exercise of the right of use (including by leaving any infrastructure or substance in the land).

 

Clause 45: Covers payments made to landowners and “other persons for the benefit of areas in which relevant land is sited”

Clause 50 includes safeguards akin to a chocolate fireguard… but then only applied any safeguards to a strict definition of fracking which has not yet been adhered to in the UK (though aborted after it caused earthquakes, the first stages of the Preese Hall fracking in Lancashire in 2011 were mostly under the threshold, therefore would not be legally defined as fracking and restrictions need not apply):

(1)“Associated hydraulic fracturing” means hydraulic fracturing of shale or strata encased in shale which—

(a)is carried out in connection with the use of the relevant well to search or bore for or get petroleum, and

(b)involves, or is expected to involve, the injection of—

(i)more than 1,000 cubic metres of fluid at each stage, or expected stage, of the hydraulic fracturing, or

(ii)more than 10,000 cubic metres of fluid in total.

I’m sure MPs have legal experts at their disposal so they can find the best way of undoing the damage caused to our democracy that many of their colleagues helped cause, thwarting a wave of civil disobedience and helping voters decide whether they’re worth re-electing come next general election.

As it is, the most strident voices against fracking have ironically come from our unelected politicians – these include Baroness Royall of Blaisdon, who has twice raised questions about the Forest of Dean and fracking/ methane, and also Lord Wigley from Plaid Cymru. His voice was only one of few to properly scrutinise the Bill and call for the precautionary principle to be applied, which should be a given.

 

 

Will your MP act to ban fracking by repealing Clauses 41 to 50 of the Infrastructure Act? Get them on the case now through Write To Them Now

 

 

Advertisements

4 thoughts on “Actions not words: How Labour/ Lib Dems/ Greens/ Plaid Cymru/ SNP can ban fracking by changing the law

  1. Excellent piece, Owen, reminding us of how this legislation was pushed through with nowhere near enough parliamentary scrutiny and how politicians need to be back up their words with actions.

    Although I think it’s very worthwhile to hold MPs’ feet to the fire at every opportunity, given that the Conservative MPs currently outnumber opposition MPs by 22 and only four Tories defied the whip at December’s vote to approve fracking in national parks, what are the chances of any concrete outcome if a vote to repeal the clauses above were to be held?

    It would at least keep the issue in the spotlight, though, and test the will of those parties who say they are officially opposed to fracking. In the same way that Lib Dem Peer Lynne Featherstone’s debate on a moratorium will do so. It’s always good to keep the pressure on, to maintain a record of what each poltician does so their record can then be praised or criticised come election time. It’s important to make sure people are actively engaging with the system so that they fully understand how it works, rather than just signing petitions.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. My MP, Simon Kirby, pro fracker, doesn’t acknowledge my emails re. Fracking anymore, although polite abd correctly addressed. He is in with a small majority over Labour, so l hope that he will be gone soon. I support promoting the change in clauses 41 to 50 and all Anti-Fracking action, forced upon us in a clearly undemocratic posture.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Susan – It’s worth a go but in recent times the Government has refused to debate petitions even though they have reached the required amount of signatories. I also find in order to get a lot of people to sign petitions is a full-time job! Probably more effective in my view would be to write to MPs and lobby the parties’ leadership with tweets, emails, letters etc.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s