In a significant move today, backbench MPs opposed to the UK Government’s dash for fracked gas have brought the issue to a head by forcing a vote for a moratorium on the controversial industry. A new clause to the UK Infrastructure Bill lodged with multi-party support means that next Monday MPs will vote on whether to put a stop to the unconventional gas industry while work to assess its impact on climate change, public health, the environment and the economy is carried out.

The moratorium clause has been tabled by Labour MPs and is supported by MPs from the LibDems, Greens and Plaid Cymru. However, no SNP MPs have so far supported the clause. All MPs will have a chance to vote for it on Monday 26 January.

Friends of the Earth Scotland Head of Campaigns Mary Church said:

“This welcome move by backbench MPs gives Westminster a crucial opportunity to call a halt on the UK Government’s reckless dash for fracking and unconventional gas. With the latest climate science and the mounting body of evidence about the health risks of this unnecessary industry, the pursuit of gas fracking and drilling is utterly irresponsible.

“We commend those who have already backed this clause and urge all MPs to protect their constituents and the environment by voting for a moratorium. Fracking has been a huge part of the post-Referendum debate in Scotland. In this critical pre-election period a switched-on Scottish electorate will be looking closely at the way parties vote on this amendment. It will be very puzzling indeed to people in Scotland if our SNP MPs do not take this opportunity to put the unconventional gas industry on hold while its impacts are properly assessed.”

Regardless of what happens in the Westminster vote at the Report Stage of the Infrastructure Bill in the Commons 26 January, the Scottish Government could take action to stop the industry north of the border using existing planning and environmental powers.

Church continued:

“It is our hope that MPs grab hold of this lifeline and vote to protect people across Britain from this dangerous industry. However, if the vote goes the wrong way, we are absolutely clear that the Scottish Government already has powers at its disposal to block unconventional gas and fracking north of the border under planning and environmental laws. The eventual transfer of onshore oil and gas licensing powers to Holyrood will simply leave the SNP with absolutely no excuse not to act to stop this dangerous and unnecessary industry.

“While the Scottish Government has been cautious in its approach to unconventional gas, the goal posts have shifted in recent months with INEOS’s plans to frack large parts of the central belt, and Cluff’s ambition to set coal seams under the Forth alight. Minsters must act now using existing powers to stop the unconventional gas industry before it becomes entrenched.”

ENDS

Notes to Editors

1. The amendment to insert a new clause into the UK Infrastructure Bill is supported by:

John Mann MP (Lab)
Julian Huppert MP (Lib Dem)
Hywel Williams (Plaid Cymru)
Caroline Lucas (Green)
Yasmin Quershi MP (Lab)
Roger Godsiff MP (Lab)
Geraint Davies MP (Lab)
Martin Caton MP (Lab)
Liz McInnis MP (Lab)
Michael Thornton (Lib Dem)

The text of the amendment is:

Infrastructure Bill
Moratorium on onshore unconventional oil and gas
Amendment
To move the following clause
[Clause 37, page 43, line 25, at end insert]
“(1) All use of land for development consisting of the exploitation of unconventional petroleum in Great Britain shall be discontinued during the relevant period.
(2) The Secretary of State must ensure that an independent assessment is undertaken of the exploitation of unconventional petroleum in Great Britain including the use of high volume hydraulic fracturing.
(3) The assessment must take account of the impacts of the exploitation of the unconventional petroleum on –
(a) climate change;
(b) the environment;
(c) health and safety;
(d) the economy.
(4) The Secretary of State must –
(a) consult such persons as the Secretary of State thinks fit; and
(b) publish the assessment
within the relevant period.
(5) For the purposes of subsections (1) to (4) –
“relevant period” means a period of not less than 18 months and not more than 30 months commencing on the date two months after Royal Assent;
“unconventional petroleum” means petroleum which does not flow readily to the wellbore;
(6) In section 3 of the Petroleum Act 1998, after subsection (4) insert –
“and subsection (4A).
(4A) Nothing in this section permits the grant of a licence to search and bore for and get unconventional petroleum in Great Britain during the relevant period.
(4B) For the purposes of subsection (4A) “relevant period” and “unconventional petroleum” have the meaning specified in section 38(5B) of the Infrastructure Act 2015.””

MPs will get the opportunity to vote on this amendment as well as an amendment by Caroline Lucas MP calling for an outright ban on the unconventional gas industry at the Report Stage of the Infrastructure Bill on 26th January.

2. MPs supporting the amendment gave the following quotes:

Yasmin Qureshi MP (Labour) said: 

“With evidence of health impacts increasing we urgently need a fracking moratorium in order to assess the risks to public health and the environment. Fracking should not continue when regulation is not fit for purpose, and before we know if a global climate deal will be reached in Paris later this year.”

“The public have serious concerns about fracking that need to be listened to. In Lancashire where the council is set to decide on whether to allow fracking imminently, two thirds of the public are opposed. The Government should follow the example of New York and bring in a moratorium so that the risks of fracking can be properly assessed.”

Hywel Williams MP (Plaid Cymru) said:

“There is little public support for fracking and the Welsh and UK Governments should introduce a moratorium until it can be proven that there is no damage to the environment or health.

“There are clear environmental concerns with fracking, such as contamination of the water table, while, once again, Wales will not benefit financially from our natural resources. Plaid Cymru believes that there should be no fracking, at least until safety and environmental issues are resolved.”

Julian Huppert MP (Lib Dem) said:

“I oppose fracking on climate change grounds. Climate change is one of the most – if not the most – dangerous threat facing the world today, and there is very clear evidence that fracking would lead to a net increase, not a net reduction, in our carbon emissions.

“Lib Dems in Government have made very strong progress in moving our country towards a sustainable future. We have doubled the amount of electricity generated from offshore wind and created the Green Investment Bank. I want us to continue making progress in building a green future for us all. That is why I am submitting an amendment proposing that the government should not be allowed to permit fracking if the evidence shows it would compromise our carbon reduction goals. Crucially, this would be determined by the Committee on Climate Change which would ensure independent oversight.”

Caroline Lucas MP (Green) said:

“The impact of fracking is potentially vast. That’s why it’s so important that the possible environmental, climate, health and economic impacts are fully assessed and acted upon. Heavily redacted impact reports are doing little to alleviate concerns. It’s crucial the public is in possession of all the facts: absolute transparency should be a given. As it stands, the Government is throwing caution to the wind on fracking and its vested interests are being prioritised above the public interest. Caution must be exercised, impartial evidence fully considered – and the public properly consulted. This amendment seeks just that: a simple, sensible risk assessment.”

3. Last week the UK Government did a U-turn on plans to remove property owners rights to say no to fracking underneath their homes in Scotland, following strong opposition from the Scottish Government and thousands of people across the country. The right will be removed from homeowners in the rest of the UK. Our reaction at: http://foe-scotland.us2.list-manage.com/track/click?u=b5ad0d61b2a67d22c6… However, UK Minister Amber Rudd MP, rejected proposals to transfer the licensing of onshore oil and gas extraction before the General Election. The transfer of these powers was recommended by the Smith Commission, and are now unlikely to be transferred until 2016 at the earliest.

4. Bans and moratoriums around the world include:
• USA: Vermont banned fracking in May 2012, and New York ban Dec 2014; New Jersey ban on waste water disposal (also bans in some counties in California, Colorado, Texas, Hawaii, New Mexico)
• France: First country to ban March 2011
• Denmark: Moratorium on fracking
• Germany: Moratorium on hydraulic fracturing since 2012, ban 2014
• Bulgaria: Ban since January 2012
• Czech Republic: Moratorium in May 2012
• Netherlands: Moratorium on unconventional fossil fuel drilling
• Spain: Cantabria banned fracking in 2013 La Rioja, Navarra and Catalonia followed suit
• Switzerland: Moratorium on fracking in the canton of Fribourg 2011
• Ireland: 2-year moratorium in March 2013
• Northern Ireland: Assembly voted for moratorium, Government failed to implement
• Canada: Quebec, Newfoundland & New Brunswick moratoriums on fracking, Nova Scotia working toward ban
• Australia: New South Wales, ban on any coal seam gas activity in 2km of residential areas, Feb 2013; Victoria moratorium on fracking
• Argentina: 6 municipalities banned fracking

5. Friends of the Earth Scotland is:
* Scotland's leading environmental campaigning organisation
* An independent Scottish charity with a network of thousands of supporters and active local groups across Scotland
* Part of the largest grassroots environmental network in the world, uniting over 2 million supporters, 74 national member groups, and some 5,000 local activist groups.
www.foe-scotland.org.uk