Hiding Fracking Inside the Infrastructures Bill – the Tory push for all-out fracking across the UK

PANews BT_N0216131376877294426A_I1Lesley Docksey reflects on the issue of fracking across the UK.

On January 26 Westminster voted through the Infrastructure Bill, one of those gargantuan messes so beloved of governments – a Bill that included everything. Hidden amongst all the rest was a section of fracking. It was this that the pre-vote debate focussed on, because the public and an increasing number of MPs are very doubtful of the ‘benefits’ of shale gas to the UK. In this they were supported by the Environment Audit Committee’s report, which called for a moratorium on fracking.

That really upset Ineos, which was investing in shale gas exploration in Scotland. As the powers to award licences are reserved to the UK government (Westminster), it cannot have escaped some people’s notice that there was a push to open up Scotland to fracking before the referendum on independence without any real consultation, and totally disregarding the progress Scotland has made on renewable energy.

The day after the Infrastructures Bill was passed the Scottish Parliament, having the power to do so, announced a moratorium on fracking and Scotland could breathe a sigh of relief while enjoying the thought of Ineos wondering what it would do with those worthless drilling licences. I also could heave a sigh of relief because I live in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and also in an area of water abstraction, both now apparently off limits to fracking.

Yet given that any use of shale gas will increase the chance of everyone suffering from catastrophic climate change, preventing exploitation in this or that part of these islands will do little to help. How safe are we? Consider this exchange during the debate, on Scotland getting power over licences:

Mr Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): I note what the Minister says, and obviously I am keen that the powers be transferred as soon as possible, but does she not acknowledge that, as I and the Scottish Government have said on numerous occasions, there is a gap? Scotland has planning and environmental powers, but will not, if the Government do as she is saying they will, get powers on licences for some time yet. Will the Government give a guarantee that no more licences will be granted in the meantime? What is the position of licences already granted? Would it not be more sensible to support new clause 9, so that there is a moratorium until the Scottish Parliament can make a full decision on these matters?

Amber Rudd: I feel that the Government new clause deals with the specific issues that are relevant to the Infrastructure Bill. I understand—we all do—that many other measures may need to be debated, but the time for that will be after the next Government are in place, when there will be a fuller debate on proper devolution.

Tom Greatrex (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Lab/Co-op): The Minister is talking about new clause 2 and the devolution of licensing, which she says is promised and will be delivered as part of the Smith agreement. Given that the 14th round has been started but the licences not awarded, does it not make sense for those licences not to be awarded in Scotland until devolution has happened?

Amber Rudd: The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting point—one that was not raised in Committee, although we did debate this fairly fully. I take the view that the Bill is not the place to do that, but it could be considered after the next general election.

That sounded to me as though the Government (apparently assuming it will be in power after the election) is going to do what it can to keep control of anything that might make it money, devolved powers or no. And think on this:

If the TTIP deal between Europe and the USA is signed still including the “investor-state dispute settlement”, then Ineos et al may think of punishing Scotland, which God forbid.

Before the debate took place I emailed my MP Oliver Letwin, in a mood of desperation because the whole push for fracking is so underhand, dirty and dangerous for the Earth.

“Dear Oliver

I am appalled by the news just out in the Guardian about the leaked letter from the Chancellor George Osborne to government ministers, seeking their help in fast-tracking fracking. Does the government understand nothing about the risks of climate change and our commitment to control our use of fossil fuels? And will the government take ANY notice of the very balanced and unbiased scientific studies conducted in the USA by several universities, detailing the risks and effects of fracking on the environment? Or take any notice of the costs of fracking to the local authorities, particularly road repairs because of the heavy traffic? When will this government think about the health of the country and its people instead of “business opportunities”? The money that has been wasted in promoting fracking should have been invested in renewable energy. Please support the call for a moratorium on fracking and ensure that science and good sense triumph.

I have been engaged in the climate-change issue for years now. I used to comfort myself with the thought that I would at least be dead by the time it started to really affect us all. I am now looking, quite seriously, at the prospect that it could be a major factor in my death. It horrifies me that the government should push so blindly for more fossil fuels.

Very sad regards

Lesley”

To which he replied:

“Dear Lesley,

Thanks for your e-mail of earlier this morning about fracking.

I’m afraid we don’t agree about this.

It is enormously in Britain’s interests that we should be able to produce more of our gas domestically as the North Sea sources run down, rather than having to import increasing proportions of our gas.

Our planning system is a robust defence against inappropriate industrial intrusions onto sensitive landscapes; and the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering have concluded, after an exhaustive study, that our regulatory regime can prevent any untoward geological or pollution problems.

So I shall be voting for the measures in the Infrastructure Bill.

I am sorry we disagree.

With best wishes,

Yours,

Oliver”

Part of our ‘regulatory regime’ includes the Environment Agency (I love the word regime – the removal of regimes is what we tend to bomb other countries for). The EA’s current head, Sir Philip Dilley, was previously the chairman of an engineering firm that wrote the environment reports on fracking for Cuadrilla, one of the firms pressing for drilling licences.

Another part of the ‘regulatory regime’ is Natural England, which you might expect to have an interest in preventing environmental damage such as that threatened by fracking, has Andrew Sells at its head, an appropriate name for a venture capitalist and developer (house building being another great threat to the environment, developers preferring untouched green sites to brown sites that need redevelopment).

If I was paranoid, I’d think these people, having been appointed relatively recently, were there because of fracking.

A further part is the Health & Safety Executive which, as MP Jim Cunningham pointed out, has lost both funding and staff under the current government. How could it do its monitoring job at all, let alone thoroughly? But wait! The Chair of the HSE is Judith Hackitt who, as a chemical engineer, has worked in the chemical manufacturing industry and been the Director-General of the Chemical Industries Association. Who better to keep an eye on chemical pollution caused by fracking using EA-approved chemicals?

And why should George Osborne be so keen to support fracking? Could it possibly have something to do with his father-in-law Lord Howell, who is the head of a lobbying organisation for big oil and gas companies? Certainly Osborne has tried at times to significantly cut the subsidies for renewable energy.

The Tories, and Letwin is a top Tory whose opinions are not mine, are busy trashing all their promises and commitments to green policies and tackling climate change. They much prefer making money whatever the cost to everything and everybody else and, like his Cabinet colleagues, Letwin is rich and had been a director of Rothschild’s merchant bank until it became clear there was a ‘conflict of interest’ between that and being the Conservative Treasury Spokesman.

Now the Tories are in power he has, where the public is concerned, become a backroom shadow figure. He is a greatly valued member of David Cameron’s cabinet being the Conservatives’ Minister for policy, responsible for ideas such as the bedroom tax and the millionaires’ tax cut. As such, he would at the very least have overseen the policy of “all out for fracking”, if only to ease its path.

Scotland has good cause to remember Oliver Letwin. It is not the first time he’s been behind a highly unpopular Tory policy. Last month 30-year-old Cabinet papers were released. Even then Letwin was involved in policy making, and it was he who pushed the idea of trialing the poll tax in Scotland, against the advice of other Tory ministers. The poll tax resulted in riots and helped to finally bring the government down.

Fracking just might do the same.

Lesley Docksey © 30/01/15



Categories: Environmental Justice

Tags: , , , ,

13 replies

  1. There is between 3thousand billion and 23thousand billion tonnes of coal under the North Sea available as synthetic natural gas – methane and methanol:5 parts hydrogen to 1 part carbon and one part oxygen.
    This is sufficient to supply every chemical plant in Europe for 1,000 years!
    Using carbon capture and storage the harmful carbon dioxide can be stored in oil bearing strata like a soda sparklet bulb repressurising the field and increasing productivity.
    We don’t want to burn fossil fuels but we all need plastics and the range of agrichemicals, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics we derive from hydrocarbons.
    Burn hydrogen as a fuel however and apart from energy all that is released via the exhaust is water vapour.
    being lighter than air any hydrogen leak dissipates harmlessly into the air.
    That all said, with such a super abundance of hydrocarbons(more than the Arabs have oil) miles down under the sea there is absolutely no need whatsoever for the UK to be playing Russian roulette with our health fracking under mainland UK.

    • Google: Five quarters energy holdings. Deep Gas winning
      Steam and oxygen fed down a drill shaft chemically converts the coal to syngas. No burning, no hydraulic fracturing.c

  2. Excellent piece. This is a war against corruption and cronyism at the highest level. Tory leaders paid by Lord Browne and Tories doing the dirty work to push this agenda through whatever the cost. Just like the crooks at HSBC. Corruption is now so confident it is a blatant daily event.

    INEOS and others will use their ‘propaganda’ to blackmail the public but it must be simply ignored for what it is. Its time in Scotland to focus minds on getting real investment in renewables (no scams for the rich landlords being paid to do nothing). Or as I have said about the risks of fracking, on paper is might seem fine, but in the real world things are very different –

    EIA’s are a paper-chase
    They’re no’ upon the real world based.
    They tick the boxes, dot the i’s
    Ae perfect match is nae surprise!
    ‘The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
    Gang aft agley’, time an’ again.
    Oan paper, every theory’s grand
    It’s the real world ye can’t command.
    Hence, ‘Gold standard regulation’
    Is a rouse upon oor nation.
    The inviolate laws o Science
    Prove Entropy rules in defiance!

    So whun things gang wrang, as they must
    Should we gae private greed oor trust?
    Rules allow the corporations
    Self-reporting regulations
    So we’re tae Hope that They confess
    Nae major accidents suppress
    Nor hide the earthquakes they cause
    Nor break environmental laws!
    I wadna gae a thief such reign
    Unmuzzl’d greed wi nae restrain.
    Na, ae best Civil Action Plan –
    Avert disaster – if WE can.

    Lang syne, the states had rights held dear
    What’s over there is coming here!
    A hunner thoosan’ ill or harmed
    So why should we be sae alarmed?
    At least o’er there, ae tide his turned
    Concerned communities hae learn’d
    Pressure oan they politicians
    Can curb corporate ambitions!
    Learn smart lessons fae their mistakes
    Ae broken link, the full chain breaks
    Engineering is generic
    Problems may be less numeric
    It’s guaranteed they will occur
    Guid logic says we must demur.
    Like Florida or New York state:
    Stop it here – before it’s too late!

    Underground gasification?
    Hell’s-furnace ablow oor nation!
    Psychotic vampires’, slash-an’-burn
    Scotia’s ashes – pit in an urn!
    Nae carbon capture tae restrain!
    E’en Satan isnae sae insane!
    Mammon’s venal slaves, turn hither
    Ye’ve tint yer Reason a’ thegither!
    Beyond the Gates o’ Hell they’d dare.
    Is naewhar sacred ony mair?
    Greed’s hellish legions pour an’ gore
    They’d buy and sell the earth’s core!
    Investment shares and dividends
    Oor assets in their pockets end!!!
    Oor richts stripped back by corrupt laws
    The profit, theirs – we pay the loss!
    Grand theft on a national scale
    Gung-ho gangsters ‘flat out for shale’!
    See it! hear it! an’ smell its breath:
    The Neo-Liberal kiss o’ death!

    Beneath the Heaven’s perfect blue
    There’s energy we can renew:
    Ae greatest source is licht an’ heat
    Fir solar rays oor sun’s replete
    It’s free, it’s oors, sae panels build:
    The jobs await – oor people skilled.
    There’s birnies row an’ river’s flow
    There’s tidal waves an’ winds that blow
    A’ this energy IS FOR FREE
    The win’, the river, tide an’ sea
    Its time tae harness Nature’s power
    An’ gauge her kilowatts per hour.
    Enhance electrification
    Scotland’s wind an’ hydro-nation
    Invest in what is safe an’ green
    Fir climate justice, carbon clean.

  3. People in England really need to get the finger out in greater numbers. Fracking is the most disgusting, dangerous and filthy destructive practice to come our way since we left behind the coal mines. The operators want to construct and retro fit a gas field around you, and tell you it’s progress.

    A clean environment should be a basic human right. Clean drinking water with certainty is a right, not some luxury.

    It’s been pointed out England is now the only country where this I s pushing on, with Ireland, Wales and Scotland having a moratorium, and the activists will push on for a ban, like so many countries are now adopting.

    • I don’t understand. The simplest and most effective way to achieve a cleaner environment is to reduce the exploitation of fossil fuels. This would involve the immediate closure of the North Sea oilfields. Is this what you’re recommending?

  4. What will happen in Co Fermanagh, NI which is in the UK? It has a land boundary with the republic of ireland which, as valerie rooney pointed out above, has imposed a moratorium.

    For an overview of the pros and cons of fracking, with special reference to Co Fermanagh, which was circulated nationwide in Frackingfree Ireland, do have a look at https://eurofree3.wordpress.com/2014/01/09/to-frack-or-not-to-frack/

  5. The much trumpeted ‘stronger’ regulations put forward by Labour, which are no better than what is already in place in the normal planning process, and the various environmental protections already in place are no protection whatsoever if TTIP and the ISDS tribunal system comes into being. All the companies need to do is go to the ISDS tribunal and argue that the regulations will adversely affect ‘expected profits’ – the open sesame of TTIP – and they will get the go ahead to carry out tracking wherever they want.

    It is also debatable just how much recoverable reserves of shale gas the UK has. An accurate figure is not available but will certainly be much less than in the USA and will not give the UK self-sufficiency that it HSS brought to the USA.

    It is time to make a concerted effort to reduce our energy consumption and at the same time increase our investment in renewables and CCS for power stations and industry.

    • Legerwood I have a wee bit of a surprise for you: you may be indeed correct that the USA has more oil shale than the UK, but I have to tell you that out under the North Sea 1.5miles down there is between 3,000bn and 23,000bn tonnes of coal that could be cleanly and environmentally sympathetically converted into the very gases that Ineos Grangemouth and every other chemical plant in Europe is desperate for. 1,000 years supply no less, or 100 times more than the next largest coal field in the world, the USA!
      In context 6bn tonnes of coal would produce as much synthetic natural gas as has been recovered from the North Sea in 60years of commercial extraction. Under the North Sea there is more energy than the Arabs have combined.
      CCS? inject excess CO2 not utilised for manufacturing say polythene, and you could repressurise mature oil fields, in the case of the now capped Miller Field off Peterhead the estimate was another 20 years of production.
      This is not hydraulic fracturing or burning coalbed methane but chemically converting coal into industrial gases by injecting steam and oxygen down a drill well and extracting the precious hydrocarbons up a second. Another plus would be the new lease of life we could give oil rigs about to be decommissioned and currently posing a very expensive headache over how to get rid of them.
      And why do we need these hydrocarbons when the is on to be energy self sufficient from renewables?
      Renewable energy sources cannot create polythene, plastics, agrichemicals, pharmaceuticals, and industrial cleaners or cosmetics that the modern world craves and currently uses oil as its hydrocarbon feed stock.
      This is a game changer!
      Google: Five quarters energy holdings. Deep Gas winning.
      Just thought this might cheer you up a bit?

      • Heaven forbid that we should paper bags and return organic waste to the soil as fertiliser! And “the modern world craves” cosmetics. Ever heard of natural cosmetics made from plants?

      • How much would it cost the energy companies to extract all that energy 1.5 miles under the North Sea, compared to the costs of extracting shale from under the land? initially, the costs would probably be sky-high, but in time the investment would pay for itself several times over.

  6. No wonder Westminster tells so many lies to Scotland yes’sers and frightens the beejesus out of the No’sers

  7. Oliver Letwin is he not the one that wrote ‘privatising the world’ way way back? . been trying to get a copy but no luck , heard it was very expensive but I think we should ordered for every library so we can really know what we are up against. Also important read ‘This Changes Everything’ Naomi Klein, a scary read about the not too distant future ( 2017?) for those of us ( myself included) who tell ourselves there is still time; science will come up with an answer; or too busy or its too complicated etc etc . Please get a copy read and pass on.

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