UK Parliament Rejects Temporary Fracking Ban; Allows Conditional Shale Exploration

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By Ali Qassim

Jan. 27 — Hydraulic fracturing will be allowed in the U.K. if certain environmental conditions are met, following a late Jan. 26 vote in Parliament on proposed rules governing the future of shale gas, which is still in the early stages of development.

Members of Parliament dismissed calls to impose a temporary ban on shale gas fracking as proposed by a small group of cross-party ministers, including former Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman.

The Jan. 26 vote was taken during the third reading in the House of Commons of the Infrastructure Bill, wide-ranging legislation that includes provisions to open up access to shale gas and geothermal sites.

Gas Lobby Group Welcomes Vote 

“It is good news that MPs have rejected the misguided attempts to introduce a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing,” said Ken Cronin, chief executive of UKOOG, the lobby group for onshore oil and gas industry. “Most of the amendments agreed to are in line with best practice in the industry or codify the directions of regulators, which the industry would naturally comply with. We now need to get on with exploratory drilling to find out the extent of the U.K.'s oil and gas reserves.”

The British government, led by its finance chief George Osborne, has been keen to offer financial incentives, including tax breaks, to promote shale gas in the U.K., citing the need for the country to safeguard its energy security. 

“The campaign against fracking doesn't stop today,” said Donna Hume, a campaigner at Friends of the Earth.

Officials in Lancashire in Northern England were scheduled to vote Jan. 28 on an application from U.K.-based Cuadrilla Resources Holdings, the country's largest shale gas explorer, to begin fracking exploration at two sites.

The opposition Labour Party highlighted Jan. 26 that MPs had supported in their vote its proposals to include tough conditions on fracking.

“Tough safeguards better than short-term moratorium,” Shadow (Opposition) Energy Minister Tommy Greatrex said in a tweet following the vote.

Thirteen so-called necessary conditions that developers of shale gas will have to follow, according to the amendments to the proposed legislation, include carrying out environmental impact assessments, monitoring and publicly disclosing emissions, and securing Environment Agency approval of substances used in the process.

Fracking Report

In a Jan. 26 report, the Environmental Audit Committee said the government should put a hold on fracking because it contradicted the U.K.’s climate change targets and could pose significant localized environmental risks to public health.

“Ultimately, fracking cannot be compatible with our long-term commitments to cut climate-changing emissions unless full-scale carbon capture-and-storage technology is rolled out rapidly, which currently looks unlikely,” said Joan Walley, committee chairwoman.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ali Qassim in London at correspondents@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Greg Henderson at ghenderson@bna.com

The Environmental Audit Committee's Report is available at http://bit.ly/15IX16x.