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Shale Gas Drilling

Volume 604: debated on Thursday 7 January 2016

9. What steps she is taking to prevent shale gas drilling at the surface in areas of the greatest environmental value. (902826)

First, I commend my hon. Friend for the personal commitment he has shown to researching best practice in this area. I can assure him that the Government are committed to protecting our most valuable spaces from surface drilling of wells for fracking. On 4 November, we set out how we plan to do this via petroleum exploration and development licences. We will issue a response to our industry consultation as soon as possible.

I very much welcome the Minister’s comments. The Task Force on Shale Gas has called for a single regulator and increased levels of independent monitoring. Does the Minister agree that this would improve public confidence and provide further protection, particularly for our most sensitive areas?

The task force’s 2015 report says that the regulatory regime is currently fit for purpose, but my hon. Friend rightly points to its proposal that if the shale gas industry does develop the Government should consider creating a bespoke regulator. I can absolutely assure him that we will keep the regulatory regime under review to make sure that it remains fit for purpose. On his second point about independent monitoring, I entirely agree, and that is why we are already grant-funding baseline monitoring in North Yorkshire and Lancashire.

Does the Minister accept that there is widespread opposition to fracking in all parts of Britain? Will she congratulate, as I have, the residents of Calow in Bolsover for refusing to allow a drilling operation and getting it stopped not only by the local authority but by her own inspectorate?

It is quite extraordinary that Opposition Members continually talk about the potential for shale gas as if it is some kind of disaster. The hon. Gentleman comes from a very honourable and long-standing mining area. Mining has a legacy that we will be dealing with for many years to come. The shale industry, on the other hand, offers the opportunity to create a new home-grown energy source that is vital for our energy security into the next decades.

When will the Secretary of State produce some legally enforceable protection against surface-level fracking in our national parks and sites of special scientific interest?

I hope that the hon. Lady heard my initial comment, which was that we have been able to put forward our proposal to restrict surface drilling in any of our most protected areas, not limited to national parks but including many other valuable spaces, through licensing. As things stand, we are waiting for our report in response to the industry consultation that closed on 16 December, and we will make our announcements very soon.