New Clause 3 - Well consents for hydraulic fracturing: cessation of issue and termination

Part of Environment Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:30 am on 24th November 2020.

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Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 10:30 am, 24th November 2020

That is an important point. These things do not appear and simply go away. An example of something that does appear and then go away is onshore wind. When the turbine’s life is up, it can simply be taken away. That is an advantage of that form of power, but this form of power leaves in its wake enormous environmental scars and a substantial legacy of worry for the communities in which it has taken place, even after it has finished its life. If the well is to be properly exploited, there is the potential legacy of re-fracking on several occasions when all that stuff starts again to keep the well producing. It is a grubby, dirty, environmentally unfriendly, legacy-rich business that we surely should not be inflicting upon ourselves in pursuit of something that we should leave in the ground anyway.

In an era when we say that our dependence on fossil fuel will greatly decrease—indeed, companies such as British Petroleum have said that they will cut down substantially the amount of oil that they get out of the ground, and that they will move into different areas—it does seem strange for us to be encouraging an activity that involves trying to locate the most securely fastened bits of climate-damaging hydrocarbons from the soil, blast them out of solid rock and bring them to the surface to use for fossil fuel activities. As far as this is concerned, I think the watchword is, “Just leave it in the ground.”

That is why we have given the Bill an opportunity to include protection against that happening—and, indeed, protection against the conflict that I believe exists between the Infrastructure Act 2015 and this Bill, in terms of which permissions override which protections, particularly as far as fracking is concerned. We have an opportunity to set out in the Bill that no well consents will be given, and that fracking will not take place in this country. The new clause essentially says that the Oil and Gas Authority will not issue well consents, with all the consequences that I have set out; and that permits that have been given should lapse over a period of time and the work should not be undertaken.

This is a serious issue for the future of our environment and for environmental protection, and we have the ability, literally at the stroke of a pen, to put it right in this Bill. We can put it beyond doubt that—no matter whether there is a pause, whether there are concerns about earthquakes, or whether there are concerns about the environmental consequences of wells drilled in particular places—we will grasp the issue firmly by the scruff of the neck and say, “No more. We are not doing this. It is not good for our environment, and we won’t have it anymore.”

I hope that hon. Members across the Committee will join us in making sure that that is part of the clean, safe and enjoyable environmental future that we all want to strive for, by agreeing to add the new clause to the Bill.