The Labour Party derailed Britain’s shale gas revolution last night by forcing the government to amend a new law giving fracking the go-ahead to include onerous regulations. Despite delivering lower energy prices in America, where fracking for shale gas has been embraced, Members of Parliament voted to ban the practice near water sources, in areas of outstanding natural beauty, or in national parks.
Fracking is backed by Prime Minister David Cameron, who yesterday reiterated his support saying: “I want to see unconventional gas properly exploited in our country.
“I think there are good reasons for doing this: we want to have greater energy security, and that should mean making the most of our indigenous energy supplies; we want to keep prices down, I think that’s important; we also want to tackle climate change, and so exploiting some of our own gas rather than shipping it from other parts of the world can make a contribution.”
Chancellor George Osborne is also known to be keen to usher in a British shale revolution. In 2013 he announced tax breaks for fracking companies, saying “I want Britain to tap into new sources of low-cost energy like shale gas,” adding “Shale gas is part of the future. And we will make it happen”.
However, their vision is not shared by the Labour Party, nor by Liberal Democrat colleagues in government. Yesterday, Liberal Democrat ministerial aide Tessa Munt threatened to resign unless changes to the bill, proposed by Labour MPs, were made.
They include prohibitions on shale gas extraction in areas of outstanding natural beauty despite wind turbines being welcomed in those areas. Other measures include notifying every resident living over an area to be fracked to be notified individually, and a 12 month assessment of the area to be carried about before fracking can take place.
Tim Yeo, chairman of the Commons energy committee criticised the amendment, saying “I hope there will enough momentum – at least in some parts of the country – to get it going anyway but this will make it more difficult.
“There has been a lot of emotion and misinformation in this debate and I think when fracking is up and running people will not be opposed to it.
“Some of the amendments such as notifying people, are sensible, but others are more onerous. We will rely on gas for many years to come, and we may as well use our own rather than other people’s.”
A further condition, that fracking could only take place at least 1,000 metres underground, was rejected by ministers for inclusion in the amendment as it would have constituted an effective ban on fracking.
But the remaining 12 conditions that made up the amendment, proposed by MPs Tom Greatrex, Caroline Flint and Geraint Davis were voted into the bill by 324 votes to 231. Those backing it including a handful of Conservative MPs concerned about fracking in their own constituencies.
With the bill thus amended, it was voted into law by 308 votes in favour, whilst 52 MPs, including the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas who sought a complete ban on the practice, voted against.
This morning UKIP MP Douglas Carswell took to Twitter to accuse the “establishment parties” of being “rent seekers” who “rolled over to the wind/renewable lobby.”
UKIP voted for fracking. All establishment parties have rolled over to the wind / renewable lobby. Rent seekers wanting corporate subsidy
— Douglas Carswell MP (@DouglasCarswell) January 27, 2015
A Tory source said after the vote: “It was between getting this through with cross-party approval or simply having the applications knocked back by councils later.
“We already have one of the toughest regulatory regimes in the world. These are not huge concessions, and we are happy if they make fracking sustainable and make people feel reassured.”
Caroline Flint was jubilant, saying last night: “This is a huge U-turn by the Government and big victory for the protection of Britain’s environment. Labour has always said that shale gas extraction cannot go ahead unless there is a system of robust regulation and comprehensive inspection, but David Cameron has repeatedly ignored people’s genuine and legitimate environmental concerns over shale gas.”
A government spokesperson said: “Shale gas has the potential to support UK energy security, create 64,000 jobs and help the low carbon transition. We have agreed to accept this amendment, to provide clear reassurance in law, and to give this nascent industry has the best possible chance of success.”