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Volume 760: debated on Wednesday 11 March 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they intend to carry out a full assessment of, and public consultation on, the environmental, landscape and community impacts of any schemes that take place for exploratory fracking before granting any consent for commercial shale gas extraction.

My Lords, the environmental, landscape and community impacts of any exploratory hydraulic fracturing for shale gas are already taken into account through the UK’s regulatory and planning regimes. These regimes also provide opportunities for the public to be consulted.

My Lords, there are two very broad arguments against fracking. The first is that the carbon should be left in the ground, because to remove it will contribute to climate change. The second concerns the whole range of environmental, social, cultural and landscape issues around fracking. We simply do not know what the effect of fracking will be, in all circumstances, on this densely populated country with our regulatory regime. Surely it is sensible to have two or three pilot schemes and to evaluate those properly and officially before going ahead with any more.

My Lords, the economic impact of shale, both locally and nationally, will of course depend on production. However, there will clearly be opportunities for the UK to benefit, particularly through being much more self-sufficient in energy production. On the wider issues that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, mentioned, we need to make sure that, during the process, communities—the public—have opportunities to partake in the consultation at many junctures.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that, since the Infrastructure Bill went through this Chamber a few months ago, there have been changes with regard to both Scotland and Wales and that control over on-land fracking will be devolved? Indeed, in the National Assembly in Cardiff, an indicative resolution was passed supporting a moratorium, supported by Members of all parties. In these circumstances, can she give an assurance that all those approaching the department with regard to fracking will be notified that the situation in Wales and Scotland may be different?

My Lords, if the noble Lord is not going to give way, it is actually the turn of the Labour Benches, and then I am sure that the House will want to hear from my noble friend Lord Lawson.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, while fracking may have a vital contribution to make to our economic future and our energy resources, we are not seeking to generate energy as an end in itself? We are seeking to generate energy to have a United Kingdom worth living in. The richness and preciousness of our countryside is one of the most invaluable assets of that society worth living in. Therefore, is not the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, absolutely fundamental to the kind of Britain that we want to live in?

My Lords, we have been fracturing for many years. It is nothing new. We are making sure, through legislation recently enacted, that there will be protection for national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty, but we need to explore potential so that we do not rely on overseas energy that spikes up in price and whose supply can be dictated by geopolitical events. I think that this Government have approached it very responsibly.

My Lords, given the agreement on all sides of this House, and indeed more widely, on the desirability of boosting the development of the economy of the north of England, and given that American experience suggests strongly that the greatest single contributor to that could be the successful development of the Bowland shale in the north-west, is it not deplorable that Labour-led Lancashire County Council is doing its best to prevent this happening by turning down every single application for exploratory drilling?

My Lords, while my noble friend of course makes a very helpful intervention, we need to be mindful that development needs to take account of local communities. Therefore, it is absolutely right that the processes in place are followed properly so that community benefits reach out to those people. We should ensure that the case for fracking is made properly and that businesses, suppliers and operators are all engaged with local communities.

My Lords, it was incredibly gratifying to see Ministers in the other place finally relent and accept that, far from being fine or perfectly capable, the regulatory regime for fracking in this country needs a massive overhaul. When do the Government plan to consult the public on bringing in the new regulations that were won by Labour in the House of Commons?

My Lords, I think that the noble Baroness recognises that this Government have been responsive to concerns raised by the public. That is why we have taken those decisions to look carefully at legislation that is going through both this House and the other place. However, to say that our regulatory organisations are not robust would be unfair, because we have among the most stringent regulatory frameworks in the world.

My Lords, could my noble friend contemplate for a moment what our Victorian forebears would have said if those who are now opposed to fracking had been present in those days to oppose coal mining? It would of course have avoided the coal miners’ strike, which was about keeping open our uneconomic pits to dig more coal.

My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend has made some very important points in that contribution. On going forward and ensuring that we become less dependent on external factors, I agree with my noble friend that we need to make progress.