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Hydraulic Fracturing

Volume 649: debated on Tuesday 20 November 2018

10. What steps he is taking to help reduce the incidence of seismic activity caused by hydraulic fracturing. (907700)

It is always a pleasure to answer a question from my mother-in-law’s MP. As he knows, we have always made it clear that any hydraulic fracturing that takes place under current licences must be consistent with our regulatory regime, including the traffic light system, which is the toughest in the world. The Preston New Road site is the most monitored site for seismic activity, and among the 36 events recorded, the 1.1 local magnitude event was the equivalent at the surface of a bag of flour being dropped to the floor.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman is looking after the Minister’s mother-in-law, because I have a feeling that he will hear about it if he is not.

I always do my best for all my constituents, Mr Speaker; I do not have any favourites. On fracking in the Blackpool area, there have been 47 minor earthquakes in that area and Cuadrilla has now ceased operations. Does that signal a change in Government policy?

Not at all. Thanks to the superb seismic monitoring and the work of some excellent students at Liverpool University, it is clear that the most significant of the micro tremors that we are seeing is the equivalent of dropping a kilogram of flour on my mother-in-law’s floor in Earlsdon and feeling the vibration from that.

We are calmly and soberly going through the process of seeing whether this potentially valuable resource that can reduce our energy dependency on imports can be exploited, but it has to be done in a way that is consistent with our world-beating and tough regulatory regime.

How come we have been using exactly the same technology without difficulty, fracking at hundreds of sites, for years for thermal energy?

My right hon. Friend makes a valuable point. It is said that fracking is this new thing, but in fact we have been doing it for many years, including using it to extract oil from sites close to both of our constituencies. It is a perfectly safe technology. We have to be clear, however, that we are doing this in an environmentally sensitive way. Of course nobody wants environmental regulations that they cannot defend to their constituents, but we are going through this calmly and soberly; we have excellent science and so far the process is delivering shale gas from these very exploratory fracks, which is something we should all welcome.

On 21 May this year the Minister met a number of renewable energy companies. That meeting was properly recorded on the ministerial register of meetings to ensure transparency. On the same day the Minister also met all the key fracking companies including Cuadrilla, INEOS, iGas and Third Energy. That meeting somehow failed to make it on to the transparency register. Would the Minister like to take this opportunity to apologise for the concealment of that information, and by way of penance would she like to confirm when she will finally visit local residents at Preston New Road to explain why the 36 earthquakes that have occurred since Caudrilla began fracking operations are simply the equivalent of dropping a bag of flour on their kitchen floors?

I am glad the pantomime season is coming up as there is some good auditioning going on. Let me explain. I know that the hon. Gentleman is aware of the ministerial code, and I am told by my officials that when they did not disclose the meeting of 21 May it was because the ministerial code does not require Ministers to disclose meetings that they drop in on, as opposed to host in their office. I have made it clear to my officials that any meeting ever held with anyone related to shale gas should be recorded, whether or not that is in accordance with current guidance. The hon. Gentleman will also know that at that so-called secret meeting with the fracking companies were the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, the GMB union, representatives of local government and UK100 chaired by the doughty Polly Billington, former special adviser to the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband). The idea that I would hold secret meetings with an industry that is so potentially vital is, frankly, ridiculous. I have also appointed a superb former colleague of the hon. Gentleman’s, Natascha Engel, as my commissioner for shale gas, and she has been out there very consistently meeting local groups and residents in all of these fracking areas. I would be delighted to visit Preston New Road. Unfortunately, however, as I was aggressively approached by a protestor who threatened to visit my home because he knew my children were home alone, I have been advised for security reasons to be very careful about engaging with the protestors. Of course when I go, unlike some Opposition Members, I will make sure to visit the protestors and also those exploiting the resource to create jobs. Those of us on the Government Benches believe in jobs, not mobs.