The Infrastructure Bill debate

So what happened yesterday?

Well first of all we were treated to a report from the Commons Environmental Audit Committee. This hard-hitting report was hugely critical of fracking. It made it abundantly clear that fracking was incompatible with the UK’s obligations towards climate change mitigation. The full text of its conclusions and recommendations can be found here

Then we had Frackgate – It was revealed that Chancellor George Osborne had sent a letter to members of the cabinet committee on economic affairs requesting that ministers make dozens of interventions to fast-track shale gas drilling. The text of the letter can be found here

With a woeful day in prospect for the fracking industry shares in iGas plummeted to a new low of 18.25p – down from 27.25 at the start of trading.

In the afternoon we had farce of 2 hour debate on amendments to the infrastructure bill. Many MPs complained that they were being allowed insufficient time to make their points, and we watched Caroline Lucas MP valiantly gabbling to make her points in the limited time available (Bizarrely in the debate on the bill itself we were treated to various MPs droning on interminably about whether pubs should be allowed to be closed or not – perhaps it’s not hard to divine where their priorities lie is it?)

We also learned more about the problematic issue of the redacted sections on fracking’s potential impact on house prices in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs report on the impacts of fracking on the rural economy.

Amber Rudd MP told us: “If somebody in another Department has prepared something, a junior member perhaps, and it was not appropriate for them to have done so, which is a comment I have fairly made, I do not think it is appropriate for it to be released. It could mislead the public. It is because I am so concerned about the public that we have taken this view

Well thank goodness we have people like her to look after us is all I can say. Imagine that [redacted] was allowed to write such a report!

On to the voting – Drill Or Drop reported it like this:

Vote 1 on specific fracking regulations
New Clause 1 proposed by shadow ministers Tom Greatrex, Richard Burden and Robert Blackman-Woods. This would have amended the Environmental Permitting Regulations to include specific regulations on hydraulic fracturing operations, exploration, drilling wells, decommissioning and long-term maintenance.

Those in favour 224
Those against 320
New clause not included in the Infrastructure Bill

Vote 2 on devolving licensing and mineral access rights to Scotland

New Clause 2 proposed by shadow ministers Tom Greatrex, Richard Burden and Robert Blackman-Woods. This would amend the Scotland Act to give the Scottish Government responsibility for licensing and mineral access rights for onshore shale gas extraction

Those in favour 231
Those against 324
New clause not included in the Infrastructure Bill

Vote 3 on a fracking moratorium
New clause 9 proposed by Yasmin Qureshi, Mr Roger Godsiff, Martin Caton, Mr Michael Thornton, John Mann, Caroline Lucas, Hywel Williams, Dr Julian Huppert, Dr Alan Whitehead, Mr Mark Williams, Joan Walley, Roger Williams, Jeremy Corbyn. This would declare a moratorium on fracking while an independent assessment was carried out into the impact of unconventional petroleum on climate change, the environment, health and safety and the economy.

Those in favour 52
Those against 308
Most Labour MPs abstained in the vote
New clause not included in the Infrastructure Bill

Labour’s proposed additional fracking regulations

New clause 19 proposed by Tom Greatrex, shadow energy secretary Caroline Flint and Geraint Davies, Labour MP for Swansea West. This set conditions for hydraulic fracturing to take place. This included:

Environmental Impact Assessments
Independent inspections on well integrity
Monitoring on the site for the previous 12 months
Site-by-site measurement, monitoring and public disclosure of existing the fugitive emissions

No fracking can take place in

Groundwater source protection zones
Protected areas
On land under 1,000m

Also required:

Planning authorities consider the cumulative impact of fracking activities
Provision of community benefit schemes
Residents in affected areas notified individually
Substances used subject to approval of the Environment Agency
Land is left in condition required by the planning authority
Water companies are consulted by planning authorities

The government accepted this new clause as part of the bill and there was no vote.

We believe that although this is something of a fudge by the labour party who are clearly ambivalent on the subject of fracking, the extra requirements do go some way towards safeguarding communities if fracking is indeed forced upon us.

The requirements are still woolly in many places and we predict that they will be the subject of much debate between communities, government and the industry over the coming months and years.

We also believe that the industry will be spitting feathers at what has been described by some newspapers as a U-Turn by the government, and the introduction of new regulations which will further slow down any development of shale gas extraction in the UK. They will be particularly exercised by the provision that “Planning authorities consider the cumulative impact of fracking activities“. If any proof were needed that we did not have what MP Mark Menzies has continually referred to as a “gold standard” of regulation, then the fact that this amendment went though without a division vote is a clear demonstration of that.

As an article in The Lawyer commented

“The House of Lords will now have an opportunity to consider the amendments made by the Commons. Unless
some changes are made to clarify the less tidy parts of the new clause’s drafting, uncertainties over what it
requires may lead to a moratorium on GB fracking by the back door if and when the new clause comes into effect.”

At the time of writing 10:00 am on Tuesday 27th January iGas shares have still not recovered significantly and are trading at 20.00p. The market is still talking to us. Are we listening?

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