Really Mr Menzies?

Mark Menzies

Mark Menzies as featured on the Cuadrilla website

Our local MP Mark Menzies (Con) has already told us that he will support fracking provided there are “robust regulations in place“, but until now he has pretty much sat on the fence.

Today, in a surprising attack on those opposing fracking, he accuses opponents of fracking of “scaremongering” and “propagating misinformation“, in his column in the Lytham St Annes Express.

Here is what he wrote:

This week I met with energy minister Andrea Leadsom MP to discuss the latest developments surrounding shale gas. I was concerned to receive a large number of letters recently informing me that the government was introducing new measures which will put drinking water at risk by allowing exploration in high risk areas. The minister was adamant this was untrue and told me the government is planning to put out a firm rebuttal of these claims. This issue is too serious and I would hate to think that reasonable arguments and concerns are being weakened by untrue scare stories [Our emphasis]. I have said that these matters need to be looked at in a sober and considered way and opponents do nothing for their cause by propagating misinformation [Our emphasis again].

We can only assume that he is referring to people who have emailed him using templates like this one from Friends of the Earth:

I am writing to ask you to call for a full vote of the House on the Government’s proposed fracking rules that would allow companies to frack through England’s drinking water protection areas and in protected areas including Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs)

The motion to accept or reject the Government’s draft regulations (Onshore Hydraulic Fracturing (Protected Areas) Regulations 2015) is expected on Wednesday 28th or Thursday 29th October.

Please reject the motion and call for a full vote.

Water contamination is one of the biggest risks from fracking. Earlier this summer, the Government’s own – previously heavily redacted – draft Defra report (Shale Gas: Rural Economy Impacts) stated that even an indirect exposure to water contaminated by fracking could pose risks to health.

Many newly licensed areas for fracking directly overlie drinking water protection areas. This means that even more people would be at risk of having their drinking water polluted.

Due to the high risks of fracking to people, our climate, and the environment, there are moratoriums and bans in place in Wales, Scotland, the Netherlands and France and New York State.

Please stop the Government from further weakening fracking regulation by calling for a vote, and voting against these proposals.

This email template is accurate and yet not very specific, and if Mr Menzies had not troubled to avail himself of the detailed facts, then it is conceivable that he might indeed have allowed himself to be convinced by Ms Leadsom’s bland assurances.

However, he doesn’t really have that excuse as earlier this week he was made fully aware of the details behind the issues being referred to him by opponents of shale gas. This can be seen on the Defend Lytham website where the facts are laid out with considerable clarity. We reproduce them below for your reference.

To summarise the detail below, the Statutory Instrument being laid down by Ms Leadsom offers no protection from fracking companies drilling on the surface of national parks or though aquifers within them. The only protection offered in this regard (and this is a travesty of the promises made when the Infrastructure Bill was passed by the government which Mr Menzies is part of) is that the act of fracking can not take place above 1200 metres in depth.

It is therefore perfectly reasonable for those opposing fracking to have brought to Mr Menzies attention the fact that “the government was introducing new measures which will put drinking water at risk by allowing exploration in high risk areas“.

Now Mr Menzies may have had valid reasons for not attending the Delegated Legislation Committee hearing which took place on Tuesday, but had he done so he would have seen Ms Leadsom having to admit, in a rather embarrassed fashion, (and under questioning from Michael Fabricant, one of Mr Menzies’ own Conservative colleagues), that the proposed secondary legislation was inadequate and would have to be supplemented later by further secondary legislation to prevent drilling on the surface and through aquifers in National Parks and AONBs.

This really is a very long way from putting “out a firm rebuttal of these claims“. Isn’t it?

Dr Alan Whitehead MP (Lab) described this Statutory Instrument, as a “very serious diversion” of the intentions of the Infrastructure Act, and as either having been badly drafted by accident or having been deliberately written to “drive a coach and horses” through the law. For more information on this Committee Meeting please refer to Ruth Hayhurst’s excellent “Drill or Drop” website.

Even fellow Conservative MP, Kevin Hollinrake, had to concede that the statutory legislation constituted a U-turn and had to resort to telling his constituents via HIS local paper, rather unconvincingly,  that it was all OK really in spite of that. It seems he too had been “assured that plans to drill at depths of 1,200m and below under protected park landscape after a Government change of heart would not disrupt the landscape of treasured beautyspots.” Easily assured these MPs aren’t they?

With that in mind, for Mr Menzies to accuse local people of promoting “untrue scare stories” and “propagating misinformation” on this subject in his newspaper column, is not simply discourteous, it is a dereliction of his duty to represent his constituents, who had taken the trouble to explain the issues to him with absolute clarity, as can be seen from the information provided to him by Defend Lytham below.

If he needs more convincing that he badly misjudged the situation here he may want to follow these links:

Mr Menzies will hopefully now take the time to look at the evidence (including that of his colleague Mr Fabricant), in “a sober and considered way”, and have the decency to apologise for these slurs in next week’s column.

This is the information that was provided to Mr Menzies at the beginning of this week:

Protected Groundwater Source Areas

As set out by the Environment Agency, Groundwater Source Protection Zones 1, 2 and 3 are areas around aquifers used for drinking water. The water protected by these areas provides a third of our drinking water.

The type of SPZ is defined by the travel time it would take for water to filter from the SPZ area to the aquifer:

SPZ 1 is defined as the total areas in which water would get back to the drinking water source within 50 days, and has a minimum radius of 50 metres.
SPZ 2 is where this would take just over a year – 400 days, and has a minimum radius of 250 metres
SPZ 3 designates the full catchment area where water would travel back to the drinking water source.

The amendment, as accepted by the Government in January, prohibited fracking in any and all SPZs without exception. However, the text of the SI to define which SPZs are protected is as follows:

Definition of ‘protected groundwater source areas’

2.–(1) This regulation defines ‘protected groundwater source areas” for the purposes of Section 4A of the (Infrastructure) Act.

(2) A ‘protected groundwater source area” is any land at a depth of 1200 metres beneath a relevant surface area.

(3) For the purpose of Paragraph 2, “relevant surface area” means any land at the surface that is –

(a) within 50 metres of a point at the surface at which water is abstracted from underground strata and is used to supply water for domestic or food production purposes, or

(b) within or above a zone defined by a 50-day travel time for groundwater to reach a groundwater abstraction point that is used to supply water for domestic or food production purposes.

The regulations as described above in the SI therefore only relate to SPZ1s – which are defined by a 50-day travel time and within 50 metres, as in 3a and b above – where fracking would be permitted below 1,200m (which is only 200m more than the depth allowed in any piece of unprotected land).

However, there are no restrictions on drilling in SPZ 1, 2 or 3, which would create pathways for possible contamination. Under these regulations companies would be allowed to drill through any aquifer in any SPZ. There are also no restrictions on surface activity in any SPZs. This means there are risks of surface and groundwater contamination: if there is a surface spill this could contaminate the surface water and groundwater.

All SPZs (1,2, and 3) feed aquifers used for drinking water and should be protected from the high risks of fracking.

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