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Report (3rd Day)

Part of Infrastructure Bill [HL] – in the House of Lords at 4:45 pm on 10th November 2014.

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Photo of Baroness Worthington Baroness Worthington Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change) 4:45 pm, 10th November 2014

My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendment 115A. These two amendments have been tabled to address what I think will prove a major oversight on the part of the Government. They would ensure that hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas in the UK could get off to a good start with the confidence of the general public. The oversight that I refer to is that there has been no word from the Government on the need for regulations to enhance environmental protection in light of this new activity.

Obviously, we have been used to extracting oil and gas from offshore in the UK for many years. However, the advent of fracking, as has been seen in the US, brings with it a unique set of circumstances and a unique set of potential risks. It seems odd that the Government have not seen fit to come forward with a comprehensive review of the current environmental regulations that would apply to this industry and have sought only to introduce a limited set of clauses to the Bill, which we will come on to debate, relating to trespass laws.

As I have said, fracking is a novel process which contains a number of different stages all of which will be subject to some forms of environmental regulation—let us be clear about that. However, the Economic Affairs Committee of the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, in its thorough and detailed inquiry and recent report, clearly highlighted the need for a review of the existing regulations not only to simplify and clarify but to ensure that any potential loopholes are closed. Two in particular were mentioned by the noble Lords who were the authors of that report, one being the need for genuine independence of inspectors and the other—here, they cited a recommendation of Professor David MacKay—the need for baseline and ongoing monitoring of fugitive emissions. Our amendment puts forward those requirements as part of new regulations. We have also included two or three other issues.

We propose our amendments not out of any desire to see fracking held back or delayed but to give it the best possible chance of moving forward on the right foot from the outset. Just last week, a town in Texas, Denton, voted against allowing fracking to continue within the confines of the town. This is right in the heart of the oil and gas boom that has been brought about by shale gas in the US. The reason cited for passing the ban was that people had become tired of industry trying to work around environmental protections and environmental regulations.

Our aim in tabling the amendments is to ensure that we do not have that outcome here in the UK. We should take the time now to introduce a proper regulatory framework that enables the industry to get off to the right start and to learn from some of the mistakes that we have seen in the US, where patchy regulation has led to a number of pernicious scare stories being in the public mind when it comes to fracking. Once such stories have seen the light of day, they are very hard to root out. It is our contention that the Government have not done enough to go forward with a sensible and balanced approach to fracking in the UK—hence these amendments.

As I have said, in thinking about amendments, we read with great care the recommendations of noble Lords on the Economic Affairs Committee. I am pleased to say that we have taken forward the two recommendations that I mentioned, on independence of inspectors and in relation to the monitoring that is needed to establish a baseline. We can have a discussion about how that baseline should be established, but it would be in the interests of the industry to have baseline monitoring because what we do not want is for stories to keep abounding about shale gas having higher emissions than coal simply because we lack the data. It would be a shame not to put in place the adequate protections so that we can have access to those data and can refute such claims, and to show that fugitive emissions do not undermine the environmental case for fracking.

As I said in my comments previously on CCS, on our side we are committed to bringing forward a whole range of low-carbon technologies and fuels to enable us to decarbonise our economy. Shale gas can play an important role in that. I would far rather that we use homegrown gas than imported Russian coal. For that reason you will see that we are, in general, supportive of the Government’s moves to change the laws and the legal loopholes that we will debate today. However, we have tabled this amendment because this is a very serious issue. We need to get public support and public confidence and ensure that our regulators have every possible chance to ensure that this industry gets off to a good start.

I am sure that the Minister will claim that the experts say that it is all okay and we have all the environmental regulations we need, but that does not appear to be the case. I have been approached by someone who mentioned to me that the regulatory structure is really not good enough, both in its complexity and its lack of oversight in terms of some of the issues I have just mentioned. I would very much like to hear from the Minister what her response is to the question of independent inspection.

Equally, in our debate on Tuesday, a number of noble Lords made specific reference to the issue of fugitive emissions—here I refer to our Amendment 115A. Unfortunately, the Minister was not forthcoming in her response to either myself or the noble Lords, Lord Shipley and Lord MacGregor, who also raised questions about fugitive emissions. I hope that the Minister will use the opportunity today to put on record the Government’s approach to fugitive emissions, the baseline monitoring for those, the ongoing monitoring and who should pay for that and resource it.

I apologise to noble Lords if I am even more rambling than normal. I am not feeling 100% today, but I am here because this is an incredibly important aspect of this Bill. It is in our interest, and also that of industry and the economy, that we get fracking right. I do not believe that the Government have paid sufficient attention or listened carefully enough to the concerns from those in the environmental sector, pondering on what we think about the potential impact of this technology. I look forward to hearing the response of the noble Baroness. I beg to move.

Annotations

John Nissen
Posted on 11 Nov 2014 3:48 pm (Report this annotation)

Joe Romm, a much respected blogger on climate change, has recently written about how fugitive methane is particularly serious from fracking, with up to 10% loss. Considering the global warming potential of methane is 86 times that of CO2 over 20 years (according to the latest IPCC assessment, AR5) this can wipe out any climate benefit of natural gas obtained through fracking. See:
http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/10/22/3582904/methane-...