Ministers Plot to impose fracking on the UK

This story was originally published in The Telegraph

Leaked Cabinet plans propose letting unelected planning inspectors, rather than councils, give the go ahead for shale gas wells to boost production

Northern Powerhouse

Communities could lose the right to block fracking wells as part of a Cabinet plan to create a shale gas industry within a decade.

The 10-page plan, leaked to anti-fracking campaigners, sets out a timeline for the expansion of the shale gas industry in Britain.

Three Cabinet ministers put their names to the scheme which would see fracking wells classified as ‘nationally significant infrastructure’.

If that was to happen, then councils would be stripped of the ability to block planning applications for fracking wells in local communities.

Instead unelected planning inspectors would be given the power to decide if shale gas drilling sites got the go-ahead, paving the way for a huge uptake in fracking.

The move would also speed up the planning process.

The change comes as Ineos, one of the big fracking companies headed by billionaire Jim Ratcliffe, disclosed to The Telegraph its own plans to kick-start the UK’s shale gas industry by drilling tens of wells this year. Ineos said it intended to submit a series of planning applications in the spring.

A map of exploratory licence sites across northern england. Frack-off.org.uk.

A map of exploratory licence sites across northern england. Frack-off.org.uk.

Friends of the Earth, which obtained the leaked letter, branded the proposed changes “an attack on democracy”, while the MPs on the Commons’ Energy and Climate Change committee threatened an investigation.

The letter was sent to George Osborne, the Chancellor, and signed by Amber Rudd, the Energy secretary, Greg Clark, the Local Government secretary and Liz Truss, the Environment secretary.

The letter states that “within 10 years” Britain will have a “maturing shale gas industry”, with “exploration under way and first few sites hydraulic fracturing” by 2017.

By 2020 it envisages that “production [is] underway from the first converted sites (assuming the gas flows and is commercially recoverable)”.

Fracking –short for hydraulic fracturing – involves using high-pressure jets of water to release gas. However, environmental concerns have dogged the industry, with protesters opposing new wells.

Protesters march on the Blackpool offices of Cuadrilla to oppose plans to erect a fracking rig in the area  Photo: EPA

Protesters march on the Blackpool offices of Cuadrilla to oppose plans to erect a fracking rig in the area Photo: EPA

The last fracked gas well in the UK – at Preese Hall in Lancashire – stopped work nearly five years ago, and only two new applications are being considered.

Planning inspectors are due to hear an appeal in the next fortnight on Lancashire County Council’s decision to reject an application by Cuadrilla.

The decision to frack a well in Kirby Misperton in Yorkshire is due next month.

The Government is an enthusiastic supporter of fracking, which David Cameron described in 2014 as being “good for our country”.

The Prime Minister blamed a “lack of understanding” about the process for some of the opposition to it, and insisted they would be addressed once people could see functioning shale gas wells in the UK.

In a bid to encourage the nascent industry last year the Government introduced powers to allow ministers to call in fracking planning decisions if councils were taking too long to reach them.

In a bid to encourage the nascent industry last year the Government introduced powers to allow ministers to call in fracking planning decisions if councils were taking too long to reach them.

However the Cabinet ministers believe the Government now needs to go further and classifyfracking wells as “Nationally Significant Infrastructure” to allow planning inspectors decide if they get the green light.

The minister say in the letter, which was dated July 7 2015, but has only just come to light: “We are therefore minded to bring commercial shale production within the Nationally Significant Infrastructure planning regime and to be ready to begin the move from early 2016 for large scale applications.

“However we need to think carefully about whether to slow this approach until a number of exploration sites are underway in order to avoid delaying current and prospective exploration applications or undermining public support for exploration sites.”

The Cabinet ministers add: “We need some exploration wells, to clearly demonstrate that shale exploration can be done cleanly and safely here. So we must put our immediate efforts into securing some early wins in exploration”.

The letter goes on: “It is vital that we reach a position where mineral planning authorities feel able to take sound planning decisions within appropriate timescale and at an appropriate cost.”

A series of earthquakes near Blackpool was caused by hydraulic fracturing, or 'fracking'. The earthquakes damaged the well casing, but Cuadrilla refused to cease production Photo: Alamy

A series of earthquakes near Blackpool was caused by hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking’. The earthquakes damaged the well casing, but Cuadrilla refused to cease production Photo: Alamy

A public relations campaign will be necessary about the safety of shale gas to convince sceptics, likening the concerns to health worries about mobile phones in the past

The letter states: “Alongside geology and investment, the biggest challenge we face is to foster a climate of opinion in which the development of our shale resources is seen as safe and acceptable to a majority of the public, nationally and locally, ie communities likely to be directly affected.

“Other new industries and technologies, such as mobile telecommunications, faced similar challenges in the past and were able to reassure the public. We must now do so with shale.

“Government has to be united using the levers it can control, and bringing in others to support our policy where we are not in control.

“This will be a challenging balance given public misgivings. It will be important that we can demonstrate that shale can be developed safely, so this will be a key feature of our communications strategy.”

Campaigners and MPs condemned the plans to take away powers from councils over new wells. Craig Bennett, the Friends of the Earth chief executive, said: “David Cameron said communities would have a voice in whether or not fracking should happen near them, but clearly they are saying one thing while privately pursuing quite another.

“Communities and local councils could have an opinion on what colour they want the security gates to a shale gas site to be painted, but seemingly little else. This Government appears to promise democracy, they don’t intend to deliver.”

Angus MacNeil MP, chairman of the Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee, said the letter demonstrated “breathtaking hypocrisy “ from the Government.

He said: “There is a massive double standard her when the Tory Government now wants to run roughshod over the wishes of local communities.

“I feel sorry for people in England who can have their wishes and powers disregarded by a centralised two-faced government driving a very narrow agenda.

“It will be a worrying development for many communities in England and my committee may scrutinise inconsistencies in energy policy approach.”

The full letter to George Osborne below (click to enlarge):

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Help Angela Smith to rebrand fracking

Angela Smith
Angela Smith thinks that referring to fracking as, er ‘fracking’ is unhelpful. Ever eager to help, we would like to offer a few suggestions for a new name.  

How can we rebrand fracking so that you will be convinced not to be against it anymore?

Please vote for your favourite option below, or add your own suggestion in the comments and we will send the winning name to Angela Smith.

Misson: Work begins at IGas shale gas site

This story by Ruth Hayhurst originally appeared on Drill or Drop.

misson-equipment

IGas has wasted no time beginning work at its proposed fracking site at Misson in north Nottinghamshire.

Equipment arrived today, just over a week after permission was granted for groundwater monitoring boreholes.

Nottinghamshire County Council’s planning and licensing committee approved the company’s application on 19th January 2016 for up to 12 monitoring boreholes at land off Springs Road. DrillOrDrop report

This is the first step towards fracking for shale gas at the former Cold War missile test site. A separate planning application for a vertical and a horizontal exploratory well is being considered by the county council. There’s no date yet when a decision will be made.

If approved, that proposal would involve taking samples from shale layers but would not include fracking. The company has said if the results from exploration suggest further appraisal were worthwhile it would submit another application for a flow-test, which may require hydraulic fracturing to help the gas to flow.

Round-up of last week’s council fracking motions

This story by Ruth Hayhurst originally appeared on Drill or Drop.

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Last week, four councils criticised government powers to override local decision-making on fracking applications.

Trafford went the furthest in reaffirming its opposition to fracking until it was proved to be safe. It agreed to ask the government to reconsider an exploration licence, issued last year to INEOS.

Chorley also agreed to write to the government, this time outlining its wish to see planning decisions on shale gas taken locally.

In Bolton, the cabinet member for environment approved a report which recommended no exploratory drilling for shale gas on its land.

And at Isle of Wight, councillors agreed to ask fracking companies to enter into a planning performance agreement. They also said it was inappropriate for a government minister to decide fracking appeals.

More details

Bolton

A senior member of Labour-led Bolton Council has approved a report which recommends the authority will not allow exploratory drilling for future fracking on land it owns or controls.

The decision follows the submission of a petition signed by 2,500 people which called on the council to confirm its stance against fracking as a landowner and planning authority.

Last October, Bolton Council voted to oppose fracking on its land.

The Cabinet member for the environment, Nick Peel, said on Friday (22nd January 2016):

“We don’t feel there is enough information to address the number of concerns that people have”

He approved a report which said:

The authority would not allowed exploratory drilling or infrastructure associated with fracking on land it controlled or owned.

As a planning authority, the council would “rigorously scrutinise” any planning applications for fracking.

The council also criticised Government powers to make the final decision on fracking appeals and to intervene in planning applications.

Darren Tickle, of Bolton Against Fracking, said:

“It is very pleasing to have Bolton Council with us and we have regular liaison meetings with them on this issue.”

Bolton is a mineral planning authority and will make decisions on shale gas applications.

Chorley

Members of the Labour-led Chorley Council voted unanimously to look into the effects of fracking in the borough. They also agreed to urge the government to allow decisions on fracking to be made locally.

The council debated the issue on Tuesday (19th January 2016) after receiving a petition with 3,155 signatures. This called on the council to:

Refuse any applications for exploratory drilling or fracking on land it owned or controlled

Ensure applications to carry out fracking were subjected to vigorous scrutiny about effects on landscape, water and air quality

Oppose government attempts to override local decision-making of fracking applications.

The meeting did not approve the first demand but accepted the second and third.

The council leader, Alistair Bradley, said:

“It was great to see residents coming to us with an issue because this is what local democracy is all about. We listened very carefully to what people had to say and there were two main points to come out of the debate.

“Firstly, that any application for fracking operations is subject to vigorous scrutiny with regards to the possible effects on landscape, water and air quality.

“Secondly, that all decisions are taken at a local level so residents and businesses can have a proper input and influence the decision.”

Cllr Bradley added:

“As a council we feel very strongly about local residents influencing what happens in their own area”.

 

“People will have differing opinions on whether they think fracking is a good thing or not but one thing everyone agreed on is the need for decisions to be taken by people who are locally-elected and know the area.”

 

“We will be writing to the Secretary of State to outline our concerns and we look forward to receiving a positive response.”

Chorley Council is not a mineral planning authority. Decisions on shale gas applications would be taken by Lancashire County Council.

Isle of Wight

Independent-led Isle of Wight Council voted on Wednesday (20th January 2016) to request fracking companies enter into a planning performance agreement. This might include a contract which would waive statutory time limits for deciding an application. The council said this would help to ensure applications were considered fully.

A motion approved by 22 votes to three, with five abstentions, also called for applications to be decided by the council’s planning committee, not by officers.

In the event of an appeal, the council voted that this should be heard by a body that had not “predetermined any issues” on the application.

The motion had been proposed by Cllr John Medland. He said:

“The government has clearly established a bias. The Prime Minister has declare ‘we’re going all out for shale’. The Secretary of State is a member of a cabinet with a clear policy in favour of fracking. It is inappropriate for him to determine appeals.”

Isle of Wight is a minerals planning authority and has the powers to determine applications for fracking. Last year the council decided against declaring itself ‘anti fracking’ because it could not be seen to prejudge future planning applications.

Link to the motion (see 9b on the agenda)

Live reporting of the meeting from OnTheWight (spool down to about 9pm)

Trafford

Conservative-controlled Trafford Council voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday (20th January 2016) to reaffirm its opposition to fracking until the technique is proved to be safe.

A motion submitted by the Labour group condemned the award of an exploration licence block in south Trafford to INEOS.

It also called on the council to write to the Energy Secretary and Oil and Gas Authority asking for the licence decision to be reconsidered.

Minor changes to the wording, put forward by the Conservative council leader, Sean Anstee, were approved by 57 of the 60-member council. Three councillors did not vote.

Trafford is a minerals planning authority and will make decisions on shale gas applications.

In November 2014, the council voted unanimously to oppose fracking until it could be proved to be safe and Cllr Anstee said that remained the policy of the council.

More details in DrillOrDrop report

 

Fracking: Listen To The Many, Not The Money

This story by Julie Wassmer originally appeared in the Canterbury Post.

In May last year, the new energy secretary, Amber Rudd MP, claimed she had “put a rocket” under her officials “to put the local community back in charge” of their own neighbourhoods – a message many might have welcomed if she had made it as easy to fight fracking as it is to object to renewables.

A double standard persists, however, because in spite of a survey conducted by Rudd’s own department showing that only 21 % of people in the UK support fracking, local councils have been ordered to ‘fast-track’ fracking applications, and the Secretary of State for Communities, Greg Clark, is intervening to decide a controversial appeal by the company, Cuadrilla, who are seeking to frack in Lancashire. That appeal decision has been taken out of the hands of the planning inspector in what is viewed by many as a shamefully undemocratic response to the rejection of Cuadrilla’s fracking applications by Lancashire County Council last summer.

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Precisely what is the purpose of us voting for councillors here in Kent, or anywhere else, if they have no power to democratically represent us over an issue as important and potentially life changing for us as fracking?

Rudd claimed that fast-tracking was necessary to prevent decisions on fracking applications being “dragged out for months or even years on end” but, in fact, the delays in Lancashire were caused by Cuadrilla forcing the council to defer its decision in January 2015 – when the recommendation was still for rejection. That the council’s final decision did not ultimately go Cuadrilla’s way was clearly a blow not only to the company but to our pro-fracking government which continues to go “all out for shale” – even at the expense of democracy.

As Vice Chair and Press Officer of the campaign group, East Kent Against Fracking, I maintained in my meetings with Kent MPs, Charlie Elphicke and Craig Mackinlay, that David Cameron’s commitment to the unconventional gas and oil industry remains misplaced on many levels. Not only have government promises of lower prices and greater energy security been dismissed as “hype” and “lacking in evidence” by reliable sources like the UK Energy Research Consortium, the current low price of oil – which is set to continue according to the Wall St Journal and other analysts – predicts that a shale industry in the UK will be commercially unviable.

The fracking experience in America has demonstrated that fracking does not create large numbers of stable jobs, and the US “boom” now looks to be over before fracking in the UK has even properly begun. US drillers are now in debt to the tune of $200 billion, sparking fears they could default and create contagion in junk bond markets – similar to the disastrous sub-prime mortgage collapse. At the time of writing, the price of crude oil stands at $29 per barrel, considerably lower than the “break even” sales price of $75- $80, so, does Amber Rudd have plans to subsidise an ailing fracking industry when only recently she withdrew subsidies to renewables?

Certainly, the environmental economist, Pavan Sukhdev, considers that a hard choice will soon have to be made by pro fracking governments: “earn the wrath of society by doing what they have always done – bailing out their friends in big business – or admit that they got energy policy wrong and make late and painful changes.”

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While our own government is clearly frustrated in its ambitions for a UK fracking “boom”, it needs to remind itself that the suspension of fracking in this country was not caused by councillors reaching decisions at odd with those of energy ministers, but instead followed earthquakes that were triggered by the first instance of high volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF) in the UK – by Cuadrilla in Lancashire in 2011. These seismic events, though minor, were sufficient to cause deformation to the well casing which, in turn, had the potential to cause migration of contaminants. At the time, however, the company failed to recognise the significance of that event. So, when Amber Rudd maintains the government has developed “a regulatory system that does everything possible to allay people’s concerns and protect the environment,” I am minded to ask precisely where that regulatory regime was in 2011 – and why on earth we should trust it now, after regulatory bodies like the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) and the Environment Agency (EA) have suffered so many budget cuts.

In his position as chairman of CPRE Kent’s Environment Committee, the respected former Environment Agency hydrogeologist, Graham D. Warren, has repeatedly warned that the Chalk aquifer, which supplies up to 90% of Kent’s water, could be at risk of irreversible contamination from fracking and that nothing short of 24- hour monitoring of sites could ensure even a minimum of safety. Yet it is not unusual for sites to be left wholly unmanned, as protesters discovered when they entered the Doe Green site (near Warrington) last April. A Freedom of Information request submitted by cancer specialist, Dr Rebecca Martin, of Families Against Fracking, revealed that this site was operating without an EA permit and elicited the following confirmation from the HSE: “It is not unusual for a borehole site to be unmanned and operated remotely…” to which Dr Martin responded. “This industry is a real danger to people and our environment, the regulation is poor and no amount of government spin is going to change that.”

In spite of bold statements from Amber Rudd about a “gold standard” regulatory framework, there remains no guarantee that fracking can be conducted safely. The UN toxins expert, Dr Mariann Lloyd Smith has warned: “you can regulate fracking to make it safer but you cannot make it safe”, which surely begs the question that if there can be only a mitigation of risk involved, what risks are we expected to accept?

Last year, a 12-page DEFRA report on fracking’s potential impact on the rural economy was redacted in no fewer than 63 passages and confirmed that house prices close to drilling sites were likely to fall and that homeowners could suffer higher insurance “to cover losses in case of explosion on site.” It also stated that “Experience from the US” shows that “leakage of waste fluids …has resulted in environmental damage” and that “contaminated surface water….can affect human health indirectly through consumption of contaminated wildlife, livestock or agricultural products”. It admitted that “shale gas development may transform a previously pristine and quiet natural region, bringing increased industrialisation”, and that “rural community businesses that rely on clean air, land, water, and/or a tranquil environment may suffer losses from this change such as agriculture, tourism, organic farming, hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation.”

Those are the real facts of fracking as disclosed in a government department report but revealed only after pressure from Greenpeace and a decision from the Information Commissioner forced a reversal of the redactions. Regarding the negative effects of fracking on house prices (something for which promises of £100,000 incentive payments to communities could never possibly reimburse us) property owners in Lancashire have already seen 50-100% write-offs in value, and Ray Boulger, from the independent mortgage broker, John Charcol confirmed that: “The prospect of fracking in your area is a bit like putting a motorway or railway, like HS2, through your front garden – it’s going to have an impact on the valuation of your property.”

After the considerable flood damage and distress suffered recently by residents in the north of England, came news that if you happen to live within 5 miles of a fracking site – do not expect insurance cover. A recent investigation by Spinwatch found that “Companies representing two thirds of the UK insurance market will not insure against damage caused as a result of fracking, or else have exemptions covering potential pollution of water from the controversial technique.” 

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In 2013 after epic floods in Colorado, Gary Wockner of Clean Water Action warned: “Fracking and operating oil and gas facilities in floodplains is extremely risky. Flood waters can topple facilities and spread oil, gas, and cancer-causing fracking chemicals across vast landscapes making contamination and clean-up efforts exponentially worse and more complicated.” And yet, here in the UK, one in five of 150 new fracking sites have been designated as having a significant risk of flooding.

Fracking “experts” always considered that the upper limit of magnitude to be expected from any fracking induced earthquake would remain minor at 3.0, but a swarm of larger earthquakes has been triggered by fracking in Alberta, Canada, with a site closed indefinitely following a 4.8 earthquake that took place on January 12th.

All of which may prompt you to ask why our government continues to promote fracking when countries like France have the good sense to ban it? Perhaps the complex web connecting industry, ministers and lobbyists as illustrated in the chart below will offer some answers as to why our government has set itself on a collision course with more than 400 residents’ groups in this country, some of which, like Frack Free Sussex now have over 10,000 followers.

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Source: fraw.org.uk

One thing is certain, those communities remain determined to protect their families’ health, the value of their homes and their precious environment from an industry that looks increasingly unable to make even a short term profit from the long term damage a redacted DEFRA report failed to hide. 

You are encouraged visit the original story on the Canterbury Post website and leave a comment.

South Yorkshire Events – No Fracking Way

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A series of events to raise awareness about fracking will be held across South Yorkshire on Saturday 30 January, in Barnsley, Wath-upon-Dearne, Sheffield, Doncaster and Rotherham.

Frack Free Dearne Valley
Saturday 30 January, 10am-12Noon
Wath-upon-Dearne (near the Market)

No Fracking in Barnsley
Saturday 30 January, 11am
May Day Green, Barnsley (near Thorntons)

No Fracking in Barnsley
Sunday 31 January
Tweetathon
Join us on Twitter using the hashtag #NoFrackingWay in support of fracking awareness events taking place around the country.

No Fracking in Barnsley – Please sign our petition

Petition Meme

Sign the petition here.

Fracking is a destructive, polluting, dangerous industry. It has caused real pain for communities in the USA and Australia and it is coming to Barnsley!

Exploratory fracking licences now cover most of the borough. Licences were granted in Dearne Valley last year and just before Christmas, a new round of licences extended coverage over Barnsley itself.

There are numerous concerns about the bad effects that fracking can be responsible for.

• Contaminate our water supply
• Pollute the air with hazardous chemicals
• Cause earthquakes
• Reduce the value of our homes
• Increase our household insurance premiums
• Make our roads less safe by increasing heavy traffic
• Leak methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide
• Cause illness in local populations
• Increase noise and light pollution from drilling operations and traffic movement.

Barnsley has an added fear, in that we can’t be sure what effect fracking will have on the old mine workings that criss-cross our area. A Keele University professor has suggested that fracking should be banned from former mining areas as being, “too dangerous”.

Now is the time to stand up against this dangerous industry, stand up for our communities and against those that would impose fracking upon us.

Please sign our petition to Barnsley Council, asking them to reject fracking in Barnsley.

Sign the petition here.