Shale Gas (Lancashire) — [Mr Joe Benton in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:30 pm on 16th July 2013.

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Photo of Mark Menzies Mark Menzies Conservative, Fylde 2:30 pm, 16th July 2013

My hon. Friend is a champion of transparency like no other, and he pursues transparency in other areas of his work. I know that he has now turned his attention to ensuring that shale gas is also transparent. I will touch on some of those issues later in my speech, and I know that other hon. Friends will do so, too.

It is inconceivable that the Office of Unconventional Gas and Oil has a single page on the Government energy and climate change website. I might be wrong, and I stand to be corrected, but this is an opportunity for the Minister and the Department to create an interactive online portal where my constituents and my hon. Friend’s constituents can go to seek information, a myth buster that is scientific, evidence-based and impartial.

I get many questions from constituents, which are often highly technical and which I simply cannot answer. I am a Member of Parliament not a geologist, and I have no background in the oil industry, so I need somewhere I can go to get those questions answered. I pay tribute to the people at DECC who for three years have been studiously answering letters, often through Ministers including the current Minister, but a community interactive portal where people can post questions and in the fullness of time—they will not get instant responses; it may be days, weeks or potentially longer—get impartial, independent and science-based replies would help to take away some of the fear, the unknown and the uncertainty that shale gas currently has for many people. Information and transparency are key.

I thank Duarte Figueira, the recently appointed head of the Office of Unconventional Gas and Oil, for taking the time to discuss with me in more detail many issues relating to shale gas development. He has always found the time and always been courteous. I encourage that sort of attitude and ethos within the office, so that no one can be in any doubt about its willingness to engage and answer questions.

Community involvement is not just a role for the Office of Unconventional Gas and Oil; ultimately, companies must take responsibility for it. I urge them to ensure that they are sufficiently resourced and have the right people in place to deliver quality, effective and impartial community engagement, to tell people what they are doing and when and to take people with them. Ultimately, that is a challenge not for Government but for developers, but I want the Government to oversee it and ensure that they do so effectively.