Last week there was a short debate in Parliament’s second chamber – Westminster Hall – on the planning process for ‘fracking’ for shale gas.
Last month we saw the government’s Planning Inspector and allow exploratory drilling for shale gas in Eckington, just north of Chesterfield, in spite of huge local opposition and Derbyshire County Council having rejected the application.
Over the summer, a quiet change in the government’s energy policies has taken place. Gone are Feed-in Tariffs to encourage small-scale renewable energy projects like home solar panels and ‘Archie’ the water turbine in the Torrs at New Mills.
Instead the new National Planning Policy Framework now instructs councils to “put in place policies to facilitate the exploration and extraction” of on-shore oil and gas.
This means that councils like High Peak, where Labour councillors initiated and passed a resolution opposing fracking in our borough, will be forced to ignore their own policies.
As it this weren’t enough, the government next proposes to treat exploratory drilling for shale gas as “permitted development” so companies would not even have to apply for planning permission when drilling or sampling a well – the first step towards fracking.
Drills like the one at Eckington are around 60m tall, and with almost 18,000 square kilometres of England covered by oil and gas licenses, including areas around the edges of High Peak, this could lead to the widespread industrialisation of our countryside.
A final government proposal would mean shale gas production projects being classed as ‘Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects’ where planning decisions are given to central Government rather than local councils.
Whilst these proposals are still subject to consultation, the government chose to ignore the vast majority of responses to their previous consultation which opposed fracking.
At a time when government support for renewable energy has almost disappeared it is strange that they should be putting so much effort into supporting shale gas when we need to be reducing our dependence on fossil fuels in order to meet our international obligations on climate change.
The government’s own assessment of the UK’s gas requirements concludes that we have sufficient resource for the next 20 years without needing shale. But fracking will lock us into an energy infrastructure based on fossil fuels long after we need to have moved to clean energy.
A Labour government will ban fracking, as we set out in our manifesto last year. Instead of encouraging the use of fossil fuels, we should be boosting renewable energy projects.
Although the government have made their views clear, I am heartened by the hundreds of emails I have had opposing fracking and the high number of MPs at the debate. The public are making their views on fracking very clear and I will keep telling the government to listen.