General view of the Cuadrilla hydraulic fracking drill site

Ministers are attempting to water down a proposed amendment to the Infrastructure Bill that would have banned fracking in water source protection zones and other protected areas and imposed stringent regulations on drilling.

The amendment proposed by Labour in the House of Commons, which would restrict fracking in the almost all of the UK’s fracking blocks and effectively ban it in 40% of land in England, was apparently agreed to by ministers in an effort to avoid a parliamentary rebellion.

However, the Government’s counter-proposal, tabled by Liberal Democrat transport minister Baroness Kramer, dilutes the language around safeguarding groundwater supplies from fracking.

It also makes it possible for the relevant Secretary of State to define what ‘protected areas’ are. Labour puts forward that these should include national parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs), Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and groundwater protection zones.

The Labour amendment, which passed through the House of Commons last week, described ‘groundwater source protection zones’ – which is a defined term – whereas Kramer’s amendment used ‘groundwater source areas’ – which has yet to be defined.

Labour says its definition includes all three levels of “groundwater protection zones” identified by the Environment Agency – these are numbered 1-3, which at the furthest reach include groundwater catchment areas.

By removing the technical term ‘groundwater protection zone’, the secretary of state is given greater discretion about what falls within their definition of an ‘area’. Speaking to the Telegraph previously, government sources indicated that their idea of groundwater protection areas “would only apply to the narrowest definition”.

Large numbers of Labour and Tory seats that are covered in fracking exploration blocks are also covered in groundwater protection zones, including swathes of the Tory heartlands – but if the narrowest definition is used (zone 1, in all likelihood) that would significantly reduce the restrictions on fracking.

The Government amendment, if adopted, could also see shale gas drilling happening alongside protected areas and under them – as it changes ‘within and under’ in the Labour proposal to just ‘within’.

‘Fugitive emissions’ and other changes

Apart from the definition of groundwater,  the two amendments differ on issue of fugitive emissions – the Labour amendment says the monitoring of ‘existing and future fugitive emissions’ must be carried out. But the new proposal narrows this down to methane emissions and removes the need to monitor future emissions.

Although methane emissions are chiefly what is thought of as fugitive emissions from fracking, there could be other kinds of emissions that are not specifically greenhouse gases but are environmentally damaging for other reasons, including air pollution – such as hydrogen sulphide, benzene, toluene, and xylene, according to Cornell University research.

Another significant change is that  the Labour amendment requires mandatory environmental impact assessments (EIAs) to take place (along with the other safeguards) before fracking can take place. But the government amendment says EIAs only have to be “taken into account” by the local planning authority, which is significantly weaker phrasing allowing for more government discretion.

There are several other discrepancies between the two amendments that primarily serve to increase government’s scope to maneuvre on fracking and reduce the fracking paper trail:

  • In the government proposition, the Secretary of State is given power to make amendments to conditions laid out in column 2 of the clause, which could potentially remove need for notices or permits
  • the Government is more vague in its wording around community benefit schemes than Labour, which insists these must come from companies – potentially opening the door for government subsidy of these schemes
  • Labour requires that residents are notified on an individual basis – government amendments don’t
  • Labour implies that a land restoration requirement is imposed by local planning authority, while the government amendment is slightly more vague by stating clearly that the local  planning authority has discretion to impose a land restoration requirement

What will happen next?

The Infrastructure Bill has been returned to the Lords (the legislation started in the Lords) because the House of Commons amendments were major and are being considered further.

There will be a debate on Monday afternoon in the Lords, either the government amendments will be accepted or there will be a vote on the amendments.

When the amendments pass, the bill will return to the Commons for a further vote, before the legislation gets the royal stamp of approval.

But  if the government’s amendment is passed into law then Labour may well call for a moratorium on fracking – Labour shadow energy minister Tom Greatrix has said the government must implement all 13 of its safeguarding conditions for fracking – “not partially, not with exceptions…but in full, completely and comprehensively”,  and called the new clause “all or nothing.”

Former Conservative environment minister Caroline Spelman has already called for a ban on fracking - and in Scotland and Wales ministers have voted to freeze fracking until more is known about health and climate safety (though the power to do so has not yet been devolved to Wales).

Meanwhile, the allocation of the 14th licensing round is expected at some point this year.

  • Helen Hansen-Hjul

    There is a flaw with the argument that you can reduce demand by targeting the UK frequent flyers to take less flights because it is completely at odds with the aims of the airlines, NATS and airport operators.
    Their primary aim is to make money from filling aeroplanes and putting them in the air!
    2 unintended consequences could result:
    1) seats which would currently be taken by a UK frequent flyer will be sold off to foreign travellers
    2) the frequent flyers who can afford to fly will still fly…

  • Susi Batstone

    Good article about the implications of the sizeable solar output of the SW. But is there a figure for peak summer demand? The minimum summer demand would probably be 11pm to 5am, when solar output is negligible. I would imagine that the peak summer demand would be afternoon/early evening, and therefore a little more closely aligned to solar production.

  • http://www.nohotair.co.uk/ Nick Grealy

    Mass public opposition? In your dreams. The planning officer described the amount of opponents as negligible, and they never had more than 300 people demonstrating at one time, in an area of several million.
    A better indication was the election, where the opponents got 13% of the vote.
    UK shale will win (eventually) . We’ve well passed peak opposition.

    Cue opponents posting videos of me losing it with them in Blackpool,last year. Note there were only a dozen of them though.

    • Julie Daniels

      Give up.

    • Kevin Schmidt

      Don’t you get it? Both nuclear and coal are too expensive. Plus nuclear is too unreliable and coal is too dirty. They are both doomed! Alternative energy is the way from now on.

  • don

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  • http://www.nohotair.co.uk/ Nick Grealy

    Something we can agree on Damian. “Clean Coal” is an oxymoron. 100% carbon capture of coal has been long proven: #keepitintheground

    The point of capturing 85% carbon from coal has been five years away every ten years. Given that a gas powered plant saves 60% of carbon anyway, I struggle with the concept – as has anyone who has tried to make it work.

    You should have pointed out that 80% of UK coal is imported from Kazakhstan etc, not by Arthur Scargills dwindling band of brothers. But I would have missed it too. His simultaneous support for coal and sun would also have left me speechless.

  • phrasing

    Save the planet by reopening the coal mines, Corbyn is completely away out in the boonies. No wonder GP love him.

  • light487

    Speculations on how long after 3 September it will take to get back to “usual” air pollution?

  • mophisch

    guys, Bonn is in Germany, not Switzerland…

  • Patrick Sudlow

    The UK’s coal seams are different from Europe’s. Because of faults and other geology, the UK’s coal seam are normally very thin and fragmented. Hence the law brought in regulating the minimum height of a seam to 14 inches. And the reason, British Coal was so expensive compared to Polish coal. Our politicians are professional politicians, with absolutely no technical knowledge. Therefore, they will continually make very unsound decisions, concerning our energy and other issues. Lord Browne (unelected cabinet member), who promotes ‘fracking’, may have a chemistry degree. But chemists, do not design, manufacture, operate and maintain plant. Hence the reason Browne, with his reduction of Health & Safety and training led to the Texas Oil Refinery explosion and the Deepwater Horizon explosion.
    As for nuclear power plants, neither the French or the Finish new reactors are on-line, despite been years late and €Billions over budget. And electricity production is only part of our emissions, with space heating and transport making up a larger portion.

  • James M

    -Current cost of carbon for a new CCGT is about 7-8 pounds, about 6 of which is the UK carbon tax, so I think the difference between the green and black lines in your graph is wrong. The carbon tax is per ton of carbon, not per MWh (which I think you’re using).

    -The second graph of minutes lost vs renewables is meaningless, correlation doesn’t imply causation without knowing what else is going on. GW of renewables doesn’t mean anything without knowing the composition of them, their load factors and dispatch profiles. Agree though in principle.

    -You say that grid count on the ” consistently underestimated energy offering from renewables”. I disagreee with this, at least how they do it. In the last paragraph, you say wind generated at least 1GW 80% of the time during peaks. That’s about 10% load factor (rough 10GW of Wind installed). National Grid assume that Wind delivers 22% load factor (2.2GW or so), 100% of the time. Without that assumption and SBR, margins are negative this winter.

  • eusebio manuel

    New China Sustentability is in global context

  • Joanna Giętkowska

    Hi, thanks for highlighting this important trend. I can also recommend our b2b solution for solar sales reps called EasySolar app (available for Android, iOS and browser). It reduces customer acquisition costs thanks to quick proposal generation and PV design :)

    • Kevin Schmidt

      What does your spam comment have to do with the price of the Pound, besides nothing?

  • cactuspie

    Turning into corpwhores for the very industries they’re supposed to regulate? Who does Natural England think they are, the EPA?

  • Kevin Schmidt

    ‘Exxon says: “Switching transportation from petroleum to renewable or alternative fuels is not the most cost-effective way to reduce GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions.”’

    Solution: Switch to burning fat cat Exxon executives instead! They’re over paid, carbon neutral and full of fat!

  • abstar

    I just want to ask a simple Q…
    I realise that this payment should really be means tested, and then we can do away with elitism etc… but my actual Q is: If these payments are meant to be paid to help farmers farm better for the environment, are they required to report on what they spent the money on? and have these ‘rich’ people actualy spent the money on what it’s suppoissed to be spent on?

  • Van Dutchman

    No matter how good the well construction is, just one minor Fracking induced earthquake can crack well shafts & heads, which will lead to invisible toxic fluid and methane leaks, and no one to monitor it. No gold standard regulations and H&S is going to stop that fact. King Knud is alive and ruling the UK.

  • Donough Shanahan

    Please read the Vattenfal link you put in your post. Vattenfall state
    “Kriegers Flak, a 600 MW offshore wind farm in the Baltic Sea. The winning bid was EUR 49.9 per MWh, which is among the lowest costs in the world for offshore wind power.” etc

    They are not quoting the selling price of electricity and how could they as the wholesale price will vary. They are quoting the cost of installing the capital.

  • Carbon Smart

    Great blog. And you’re right, not everything is about this dictator, so why, oh why did you put a photo of his huge face on a blog that wants to stress that it’s not about him…? :(