Fracking furore in Lancashire

Anti-frackers protest outside County Hall
Anti-frackers protest outside County Hall

Rebel Conservative Lancashire MPs Eric Ollerenshaw and Mark Menzies rejected the Tory party line this week, as tensions mounted in the debate over fracking in Lancashire.

Mr Ollerenshaw, who represents Lancaster and Fleetwood and Fylde MP Mr Menzies, were among those voting for a moratorium on fracking. Mr Ollerenshaw had earlier said he was concerned Lancashire needed to benefit appropriately from any fracking of local resources.

The bid to halt shale gas exploration was rejected by the MPs on Monday night.

An influential committee of MPs had called for a moratorium on fracking on the grounds it could derail efforts to tackle climate change. But MPs rejected the bid by 308 votes to 52. The cross-party Environmental Audit Commission said there should be a moratorium on fracking because it would hurt the UK’s climate change targets and could pose significant localised environmental risks to public health.

Joan Walley MP, chairman of the committee, said: “Ultimately fracking cannot be compatible with our long-term commitments to cut climate changing emissions unless full-scale carbon capture and storage technology is rolled out rapidly, which currently looks unlikely.

“There are also huge uncertainties around the impact that fracking could have on water supplies, air quality and public health.”

The bid for a 30-month moratorium while an assessment is carried out was defeated in the Commons when an amendment to the Government’s Infrastructure Bill did not attract Labour support.

A Greenpeace spokesman welcomed the rebel MPs’ stance, saying: “Lancashire residents will now be hoping their county councillors show the same vision and good sense later this week, by backing the recommendations of their own planning experts and turning down Cuadrilla’s applications to frack in Roseacre and Little Plumpton.”

The Commons vote took place ahead of a crunch meeting at County Hall to decide on two planning applications to drill in Lancashire.

The Development Control Commitee was due to open its hearing into bids by energy company Cuadrilla to drill, frack and test gas flow at Preston New Road, Little Plumpton and Roseacre Wood.

Cuadrilla has asked for a deferral of the hearing after it submitted new evidence to show it could mitigate excess noise and traffic issues which county planning officers said last Wednesday should mean the councillors refuse permission for the drilling.

Yesterday (Tues) the lobbying was stepped up in the county. An online petition containing around 40,000 signatures - gathered in less than 24 hours - was published, calling on Lancashire County Council to refuse permission for the two planned fracking sites. The petition was started on Monday night by the citizen advocacy network Avaaz.

Bert Wander, senior campaigner at Avaaz, said: “George Osborne wants to transform Lancashire into Texas, covering Britain’s green and pleasant land with gas wells across our hills and valleys. There is a long list of things that are wrong with this plan and people everywhere are calling on the council to listen to them, not the fossil fuel lobby, and reject this proposal.”

More than 240 businesses, community groups and trade unions had also signed a letter calling on county councillors to reject the plans by consideration at 10am today (Wed).

The letter, organised by Frack Free Lancashire, highlighted what it claimed was “evidence” of the harmful effects of fracking on the environment and health and also “myths” that shale gas will reduce energy prices and create many jobs.

It also called for a positive vision for Lancashire providing opportunities for young people, job creation and tackling climate change through renewable energy and energy conservation.

Ebony Johnson, from Frack Free Lancashire, said: “While Cuadrilla and their lobby groups such as the North West Energy Task Force claim to have support from the business community, it is clear many businesses have grave concerns about the negative impacts fracking will have on our local economy.”

Elizabeth Warner, vice chairman of the Roseacre Awareness Group, said: “When you factor in all the hidden costs that surround it, the potential pollution issues, the damage to other industries, the disruption, people are beginning to see fracking isn’t the solution some thought it was.”

Bob Dennett, from Residents Action on Fylde Fracking, said: “People can see the Government is trying to bulldoze this through and there is a backlash. This report confirms fracking is not the answer to our energy needs and we support their call for a moratorium but would prefer an outright ban.”

However, the shale gas industry body UKOOG’s chief executive of Ken Cronin, said: “This rushed report ignores the fact gas is not just a source of electricity but has a major impact on everyday life with respect to products we use, to heat our homes, the cooking we do and the jobs it sustains in industry.

“The report also ignores most of the evidence of a properly regulated and safe industry in the UK and that gas and renewables work together.

“The Government has already announced the next shale gas sites will not only be regulated by the four different regulators in line with 17 EU directives, requiring up to eight environmental permits per site, but also will be overseen by independent academics. No evidence exists of a failure in the current multi-regulated arrangements.”