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Volume 801: debated on Thursday 9 January 2020


Asked by

My Lords, the Government have no plans to turn the moratorium on shale gas extraction into a ban. The Government have always been clear that we will be led by science, will continue to take a precautionary approach and will support shale gas exploration only if it can be done in a safe and sustainable way. The moratorium is intended to give a clear message to the sector and to local communities that fracking, within the current corpus of scientific evidence, will not be taken forward in England.

The very welcome delay to carrying on with fracking means that we have to move a bit faster in reducing our dependence on gas, so will the Government ban new builds having gas central heating and perhaps look at subsidising heat pumps and renewable energy? It is all in the Green New Deal, if the Minister would like a copy.

The noble Baroness raises an important point. Let me stress at the beginning that we need to decarbonise, and moving from coal to the lighter hydrocarbons is one way of doing so. It has ensured that the US has met and measured its own decarbonisation very well. We will look at how to decarbonise our internal central heating processes and anticipate putting new ideas forward very soon.

My Lords, is it sensible for the Government to continue with the moratorium when we are so dependent on gas supplies from the Middle East? Are we not lucky that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, was not here when we discovered North Sea oil?

I would not like to comment on the age of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, in this regard—I mean that in a complimentary way. We currently have a number of sources of gas to ensure that we are not dependent upon any one. We have our own domestic, indigenous gas from the North Sea; we have piped gas, LNG; and of course we bring in gas from the Middle East. We have such a broad base that we are not wholly dependent upon any one and therefore we can be sure that we will be safe into the future.

The Government may not ban fracking, but do they agree with the National Audit Office’s recent report that states that fracking has no demonstrable benefit for local people, communities or the environment?

It is a question that I cannot answer, because at present there are no fracking sites in the United Kingdom that are in any way functional. The question of how we invest in local communities has already been realised by the onshore wind sector; we have seen significant benefit to local communities through investment in those communities by companies that have located their wind farms there.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is a strategic benefit in being able to produce gas ourselves? At the moment we see that Germany, for example, is in a very poor position, because she is reliant on gas from Russia. It puts her in a poor strategic position.

The answer to that question is yes. Many years ago when I was a geologist I found myself digging out fossil insects in central Colorado. That was designated a strategic naval reserve, because it was oil shale and in a crisis it could be removed for the US Navy. It is vital.

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend and the Government on introducing this moratorium. It is great news for North Yorkshire, particularly where fracking was going to be considered in a national park, which I believe is totally inappropriate. Will the Government look at energy from waste and the work going on at the Allerton Park facility? This is generating huge amounts of electricity from household and other waste, but it is going into the national grid. To make energy from waste more palatable for local communities, will the Government allow the electricity that is being generated to go to houses that lie closest to Allerton Park itself?

To answer the first part of my noble friend’s question, waste will become an important generator of electricity and we need to recognise its value. We need to consider how district heating may be based upon such approaches, which may indeed benefit those in the proximate area—the local community—and we will give further consideration to that.

The Government have indicated that the moratorium could be temporary if new research can show that fracking can be carried out safely. What exactly would the Government like to see for fracking to be able to restart?

There is a long and short answer to that. I shall try to give the short one. We would need a geo-mechanical survey of the specific basins concerned and the Oil and Gas Authority would have to oversee the determination of the criteria for such an examination. We would have to make sure that whatever emerged from that would guarantee the safety and sustainability of the resource and of the local communities. At present, it is not the intention of the Government to commission such work, but we understand that certain companies may themselves undertake it. They must do so within the limits set by the Oil and Gas Authority.

My Lords, could the Minister as a fellow Scotsman clear up a mystery for me? Is the position of the Scottish Government a ban or a moratorium?

I would not like to inquire too far into the mystical workings of the Scottish Government. As the noble Lord will be aware, the situation is clear: they have declared it to be a ban but have been shown in court to be guilty only of a moratorium.

My Lords, there has been speculation that there might be more support for nuclear, which is a zero-carbon source of energy. Could the Minister comment on that?

Yes, nuclear must be part of our wider energy mix. It is a zero-carbon approach and we will continue to invest not just in the plants we have seen so far but in different smaller-scale investments. We are also very interested in fusion and will continue to be so.

My Lords, given that the moratorium seems to be going on for a long time, what can local residents around the Preston New Road site in Lancashire expect to happen in the near and medium term? Also, are the areas that have been given licences for exploratory drilling, which is not fracking per se, still able to go ahead with that?

Cuadrilla has removed all its fracking equipment from the Preston New Road site and no work whatever is anticipated to continue there. The noble Lord will be aware that drilling can take place for a whole range of reasons, not just for the wider energy world. We will continue to monitor it to the highest possible standards where it can continue to be done.

My Lords, could the Minister advise the House of Her Majesty’s Government’s view on tidal energy?