Extract from Hansard debate http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201516/cmhansrd/cm150630/halltext/150630h0001.htm on Shale Gas 30th June 2015


Julie Elliott (Sunderland Central) (Lab): ….(extract)

Our position on shale gas was formally set out in debates on the Infrastructure Act 2015. We made it clear that there should be no shale gas extraction without a framework of robust regulation and comprehensive inspection. Regrettably, the Government have consistently sidelined our legitimate environmental concerns, and those of the public, in a headlong dash for gas. Speeches from different parties today supported that view. With 80% of homes in Britain still reliant on gas for heating, shale gas may have a role to play in displacing some of the gas that we currently import, boosting our energy security; but I want to make it clear that that potential worthwhile benefit must not come at the expense of robust environmental protection, or our climate change commitments.

During the passage of the Infrastructure Act 2015, we were clear about what changes were needed. The Government initially accepted Labour’s amendment to overhaul the regulatory regime for shale gas by introducing 13 vital measures before extraction could occur. That was a huge Government U-turn and a great victory for the protection of Britain’s environment. However, in the House of Lords the Government watered down five of those crucial commitments.

The Government watered down regulations to prevent fracking under drinking water aquifers, ignoring the existing definition of such areas and insisting on the need for a new definition—thus scope was opened up for the weakening of the measure through leaving some areas out.

They weakened regulations to prevent fracking under protected areas such as national parks, dropping our proposal to prevent fracking “within or under” protected areas. Instead, they indicated that they would block fracking only “within” them, creating the prospect that protected areas such as areas of outstanding natural beauty and national parks could be ringed by operators fracking underneath them.

They dropped requirements for operators to notify all residents individually of potential developments, and to monitor all fugitive emissions—not just methane.

Finally, they weakened regulations requiring an environmental impact assessment at all sites.

We tabled an amendment to reverse those changes, but were denied a vote.

There should be no shale gas developments in the UK unless those protections are re-introduced. It is right that individual applications should be decided at local level, as has been outlined this week. It is not the place of central Government to become involved and to trump local democracy. That is the Eric Pickles way of doing business. It is not mine, nor that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint). However, the decisions made in Lancashire in the past few days and people’s concerns reflect the fact that the Government have repeatedly ignored genuine and legitimate public concern in a dash for shale gas at all costs.

Does the Minister accept that the continued public concern over shale gas extraction might be caused, at least in part, by the Government’s refusal to address their legitimate concerns? Does she agree with me that the best approach would be to accept, as they have once before, the amendment that Labour tabled to the Infrastructure Act 2015, which would ensure there was a robust regulatory framework? Without that, people will not have the confidence they need and to which they are entitled. I look forward to the Minster’s reply to those concerns and to the crucial questions of many colleagues. There is public concern across the country, as yesterday’s events in Lancashire showed. I hope she will address those things directly, so that the public can be fully informed of the issues in this important debate about how we can safely and most cost-effectively meet our energy needs and our climate change commitments.