Harriet Harman

Labour Member of Parliament for Camberwell & Peckham

Fracking must not go ahead without robust regulations and restrictions

Yesterday, Monday 26th January, MPs voted on the Infrastructure Bill.  Labour took the opportunity to put forward a series of important amendments to protect communities and ensure that fracking does not take place without proper restrictions and robust regulations.  We welcome the Government’s decision, having previously ignored legitimate environmental concerns, to accept Labour’s proposals to tighten fracking regulations.

My view is that shale gas extraction should only go ahead if there is robust regulation, comprehensive monitoring and strict enforcement, and in a way which is consistent with decarbonising our electricity supply by 2030.  It is disappointing that so far, the Government has failed to listen to legitimate environmental concerns that have been raised about the extraction of shale gas.

One of the key concerns people in Camberwell and Peckham have raised with me is about underground access rights.  Currently, other activities which involve drilling or excavating horizontally in this way have deep-level land access rights, including coal mining or the laying of gas, water or sewage pipes.  These rights enable operators to access deep-level land without having to acquire permission from the landholder above.

Shale gas, however, is not currently covered by these existing rights.  This means that, at present, a shale gas operator has to seek permission from each individual landholder for drilling operations at all depths.  The Government is proposing that for shale gas operations taking place at 300m or deeper, no permission is required.  For surface access the company will still have to obtain a right of access from the owner of the land.

Labour’s believes that the entire environmental and safety framework needs to be much more robust.  The amendments we have put forward would prevent fracking from happening until the environmental framework is fit for purpose.  Our view is that this is a much more effective position than trying to remove the provisions on underground access, which might delay fracking but would do nothing to ensure the entire environmental regulation framework is fit for purpose. 

The conditions we believe must be met before fracking can take place are as follows:

  • Require shale gas operators to individually notify residents of activity, rather than publishing a generic notice;

  • Prohibit shale gas extraction in groundwater protection zones;
  • Put the payment of community benefit onto a statutory footing;

  • Introduce a presumption against development in Protected Areas;

  • Prohibit the use of “any substance” in the frack fluid, as in current legislation;

  • Ensure that decommissioned land is returned to a state required by the planning authority;

  • Place an obligation on operators to monitor and report fugitive emissions;

  • Empower local planning authorities to consider the cumulative impact of multiple developments in their area;

  • Ensure that there is independent inspection of well integrity;

  • Require 12 months of baseline assessments;

  • Require all shale gas sites to conduct Environmental Impact Assessments;

  • Make water companies statutory consultees in the planning process; and

  • No fracking operations to take place at a depth of less than 1,000m.

Only by fully addressing legitimate concerns about fracking with robust regulation, comprehensive monitoring and strict enforcement can people have confidence that the extraction of shale gas is safe and reliable.

As the Infrastructure Bill makes its way through Parliament, Labour will continue to hold the Government to account and ensure the important changes we made to the Bill stay in place.

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