UK Parliament Rejects Calls to Restore Fracking Halt

28.01.2015 -

A push by members of the parliamentary Environment Audit Committee (EAC) to reimpose a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in the UK has been defeated in the House of Commons.

Pointing to "huge uncertainties" surrounding the impact of fracking on water supplies, air quality and public health," the committee had expressed concern that the government was pushing through legislation that favored industry. What's more, it said, the technology is "incompatible with the commitment to curb emissions of greenhouse gases."

By contrast, a spokesman for the Department for Energy and Climate Change, which has been open to fracking, told UK media the rush to develop shale resources "does not detract from our support for renewables, but in fact could support development of intermediate renewables."

"To meet our challenging climate targets, we will need significant quantities of renewables, nuclear and gas in our energy mix," it added.

Reacting to the EAC's proposals for a halt to fracking, Ineos - which plans to spend as much as £640 million on shale gas exploration and production and has acquired licenses to frack in the area surrounding its mammoth petrochemicals complex at Grangemouth, Scotland - railed against the proposed moratorium.

Asserting that the EAC had "overly focused" on the risks rather than the benefits of shale gas extraction, Ineos director Tom Crotty said a halt to development would be "a missed opportunity."

"The UK needs shale gas, and we know that Ineos has the skills to safely extract it from the ground without damaging the environment," Crotty added. "Without shale gas," he said, "UK manufacturing will start to collapse."

After plans for the newest exploration stoppage were defeated by a vote of 308 to 52 at Westminster, environmental groups directed their anger at the opposition Labour party, which had withdrawn its support for the fracking halt after winning concessions from prime minister David Cameron's governing Conservative party.

Changes accepted by the government rule out shale gas exploration in national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and in areas where drinking water is collected. Another concession is that a year of background monitoring is required before drilling can begin.

The vote followed by only days a recommendation by the county council planning department in Lancashire to deny permission for gas exploration company Cuadrilla to drill at two sites near Blackpool because of the nighttime noise and traffic it would generate.

The UK's first fracking moratorium was imposed in 2011 after two small earthquakes hit the Blackpool area and lifted at the end of 2012. The full Lancashire council was due to decide on the permit question this week.

In Scotland, where Ineos wants to drill, the governing Scottish National Party is skeptical about the benefits of fracking, as is the new leadership of the Scottish Labour party.

Whether Scotland can have control over fracking on its own soil will depend in major part on the outcome of plans for further devolution of powers to the parliament in Edinburgh up for decision following the UK general election in May of this year.

Scotland already has control over planning, but not mineral extraction. Were these powers to be devolved, it could gain control over onshore licensing.

The Scottish electorate is largely opposed to fracking, as are considerable portions of the UK generally.