MOUNTING TORY OPPOSITION TO FRACKING PROPOSALS: WESTMINSTER DEBATE
Wednesday 12 September saw the fracking debate reach Westminster, following Conservative MP for Derbyshire East, Lee Rowley securing a 30-minute session on fracking and planning permission in Westminster Hall.
Consultations are currently out on proposals to make fracking part of the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) regime under the Planning Act 2008 and whether to allow non-hydraulic exploratory drilling for shale gas to be considered as Permitted Development (PD)
If fracking was to be allowed under the NSIP, fracking applications would go directly to the Secretary of State and the Planning Inspectorate, avoiding local democracy, scrutiny and put communities behind industry interests.
Lee Rowley MP, set out the debate line and his case on fracking, stating:
“The industry is highly controversial as a form of energy extraction, which has a chequered history in the United Kingdom which has not been proven at scale and which has in my part of the world has had the greatest amount of opposition to it I have ever seen in 15 years of experience in politics.”
Sir Greg Knight, Conservative MP for East Yorkshire, addressed Mr Rowley:
“The government talks a lot about localism. Does he [Lee Rowley] agree with me that if that means anything and it isn’t just meaningless waffle, it should mean that decisions taken by local planning committees should be the final say on the subject of extracting shale gas?
“And those decisions should not be subject to being overturned by some faceless inspector who does not have to live with the consequences of his or her decision?”
Mr Rowley concurred with Sir Greg Knight’s comments. Whilst outlined the planning permissions and infrastructure required specific to his constituency in Derbyshire, he described the process as:
“Wholesale industrialisation of a Derbyshire countryside for not a temporary period and that is just exploration.”
Bob Seely, Conservative MP for the Isle of Wight, described the fracking and planning issue as:
“Poor democratic accountability on the behalf of government.”
Veteran MP and long-standing representative for Bolsover, Denis Skinner, stood to reaffirm his opposition to fracking, mentioning INEOS’s intrusion in Derbyshire.
Labour’s MP for Rother Valley, Sir Kevin Barron, proposed a moratorium, due to the many unresolved issues on fracking in the UK. Lee Rowley mentioned Professor Styles’ comprehensive report which Talk Fracking launched in Parliament a short while ago, and how local involvement should still be a priority.
Minister of State for Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), Claire Perry MP, responded to the debate on planning issues around fracking, almost like an automaton industry robot, bringing forth a pre-prepared (yet error-filled) sales pitch on the virtues of fracking.
“Members on this side of the house stood on a clear manifesto commitment that we would develop a shale industry in this country and that we would bring forward proposals to change or to review both permitted development and NSIP regime.
“I am a passionate advocate of convincing people of the scientific evidence for climate change. And everything my department has done has been based on scientific evidence. I find it profoundly disturbing that when it comes to exploring an industry, exploring the potential of an industry, we refuse to accept science.
“The briefing that many members would have received and have seen today, says that fossil fuels should stay in the ground.
“… 70% of homes in this country, maybe even higher, rely on gas to cook their children’s tea. We also require gas for a substantial proportion of energy supply.
“And we have a choice. We can continue to import increasing amounts of foreign gas and effectively be at the behest of other nations who do not have our interests or we can soberly and calmly and scientifically assess whether this is an industry that we can develop.”
Ms Perry went on to state the current figures on public attitudes to fracking were:
13% strongly oppose*
50% don’t have a view
15% support it
2% strongly support it
In actual fact, the latest figures are:
47% neither support nor oppose
2% strongly support (down 1%)
13% strongly oppose (up by 1%)
Ms Perry conveniently missed out the true opposition figure: 32% of the public who were questioned were against fracking. But let’s not worry about tiny insignificant details, because BEIS have scrapped that part of the survey (think of ministers sticking their fingers in their ears and singing la-la-la-la we don’t care if you don’t want fracking, you’re gonna get it anyway).
Perhaps our favourite line from of Ms Perry’s speech was:
“I pity any local councillor who gets an application on their desk because it will shortly have a travelling circus of protestors, most of whom do not hail from the areas where those sites are located, to deal with. We have policing issues, we have protestors blocking roads, stopping young children from getting to hospital. An entirely unacceptable way to express democracy in this country.”
Rudely, Ms Perry put her hand to halt Caroline Lucas MP’s attempts to interject and stated:
“I am certainly not giving way to the honourable lady at any point, let me make that clear.”
And then issued the same rebuff to Denis Skinner MP.
With glaring irony, Ms Perry carried on:
“…energy sovereignty and cheap sources of fuel that are entirely consistent with Britain’s low-carbon leadership. We will not have energy policy in this country set by politics in ideology”
Hoots of laughter followed this statement, from disbelieving MPs and the public gallery. Pushing the industry’s usual rhetoric on Russian gas, Ms Perry carried on:
“Many people understand, after the Beast from the East and the Salisbury Poisoning, actually being reliant on foreign energy sources is not a great place for us to be.”
Even her own department tweeted in March 2018, busting the myth that the UK is reliant on Russian gas:
Another curious snippet from Ms Perry’s speech was that a Shale Gas Commissioner would shortly be announced. This person has “deep and extensive constituency knowledge on the issues,” hinting that this job could be filled by an MP or former MP. The job vacancy was posted on Monday 23 July 2018 and closed only six days later, on the 29 July.
Conservative MP, Nick Herbert, for Arundel and South Downs, told Ms Perry during the debate:
“There is huge concern [about permitted development], and I invite the Minister to look again at the proposals, because I do not believe there is a parliamentary majority for them.”
Arrogant, ill-informed with skewed facts and figures, Claire Perry MP is a worrying addition to the government’s regressive energy department. Steeped in industry oratory and confusion on climate science, it’s hard to see her acting within a remit that would benefit communities over the fracking industry. There does seem to be mounting opposition from her own ministers, however, and after her performance during the debate, she may struggle to force these proposals through without a further skirmish.
The government are clearly still intent on fracking the will of local democracy. And affected communities, or the “travelling circus” will not sit quietly when under siege from a dirty and dangerous industry.
*The Hansard transcript recorded that Ms Perry stated 30% strongly oppose fracking.