Permitted Development and Shale Gas Exploration

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:08 pm on 28th March 2019.

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Photo of James Heappey James Heappey Conservative, Wells 4:08 pm, 28th March 2019

I congratulate Wera Hobhouse on opening today’s debate. I agree with much of what she said. I, too, oppose fracking, for two reasons. First, it poses a threat to my constituency, and I object to it being there. Secondly, I do not see the case for it from an energy policy perspective.

There is, however, an important distinction to make, which my hon. Friend Kevin Hollinrake tried to introduce to the hon. Lady during her speech. We should not conflate fracking—where we get the gas from—with the role of gas in our energy system in the interim. I absolutely understand the point she made about methane leakage and the potency of methane as a greenhouse gas. Fundamentally, however, the decision over whether to go big on fracking now in the UK is an immediate decision—it is a planning decision and an energy policy decision—and there is a clear argument against it. However, if we conflate that immediacy with the more measured approach that we need to take to removing gas from our energy system, that risks diluting what is a very important debate.

Fracking has no role in our future energy mix because, as a consequence of decisions taken by the Chancellor over decommissioning costs in the North sea, there has been a resurgence in North sea oil and gas exploration. That is helpful in meeting the UK’s short-term domestic needs, meaning that the expected economic upside of fracking will no longer be realised. Add to that the rapidly decreasing cost of renewables and storage, and the exciting opportunity of embracing hydrogen, which I would far rather were the mainstay of the Government’s future gas policy, and one can start to make a compelling case for not requiring fracking, whatever the safety arguments might be. There is simply no role for it in the UK’s future energy mix, but there is an interim role for gas.

I commend to the hon. Member for Bath, and other Members, the work that I have been doing with Mr Carmichael and Dr Whitehead on the future of the gas grid. There is a real opportunity to introduce low-carbon gases into the natural gas mix in our gas system immediately, and to start to decarbonise, which will have a profound impact on the decarbonisation of heat. The longer-term goal is the arrival of a hydrogen based gas system that would meet the needs of decarbonising heat, and will also have an exciting role in transport and for inter-seasonal long-term energy storage.

Interestingly, Sir Edward Davey mentioned carbon capture and storage. The real opportunity with hydrogen—particularly pre-combustion carbon capture and storage technologies—is that instead of CCS being something that one spends £1 billion a time on, if it is linked to the production of hydrogen and the emergence of a hydrogen economy, CCS becomes more affordable because it is part of that whole package, which is an exciting proposal.

I hope the Government can admit that what might have seemed liked a good idea five years or so ago, is no longer a good idea. The world has moved on, and we could be embracing many much more exciting opportunities if we just ditch fracking.