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Mr Menzies Replies

Today we received a response to our open letter to Mr Menzies.

It begs the question as to whether he actually read the letter we sent him which clearly laid out the shortcomings of the Statutory Instrument proposed by the Government, which shortcomings had to be admitted to, by the Minister under questioning from members of her very own party.

We reproduce his letter and the enclosure from Andrea Leadsom for reference here:

Of particular note is Mr Menzies’ implicit admission that the absence of a moratorium does not allow us to get a “robust regulatory framework” in place, and his readiness to accept the platitudes expressed by Ms Leadsom, in spite of having been provided with a clear analysis of how, in the proposed regulation, there are no restrictions on drilling in SPZ 1, 2 or 3, which would create pathways for possible contamination. Under the regulations as originally proposed, companies would be allowed to drill through any aquifer in any SPZ. There are also no restrictions on surface activity in any SPZs.

We think our MP should adopt a more analytical and critical approach to what he is told by his colleagues if he wishes to maintain the respect and support of the local electorate. It certainly isn’t appropriate that he should unchallengingly accept whatever he is told by his colleagues and then repeat the slurs in his column in the local paper.

 

menzies1

menzies2

This is what he enclosed from Ms Leadsom – interestingly what he refers to above as “very important points” are seen as “nothing more than scare stories” by his senior, but badly ill-informed, colleague. He subsequently repeated that “scare stories” insult in his column in the Lytham St Annes Express.

leadsom1leadsom2
Ms Leadsom either simply does not understand the points that were made to her Department on Tuesday 27th October during the committee meeting, or she is deliberately misleading her colleague, as she totally ignores the reality that the SI as proposed was a U-turn on what was promised by her government in January, and that she had been forced into a further “spectacular” U-turn as a result :

drillordropu

The fact that firstly Ms Leadsom appears so unaware of the reality, and secondly Mr Menzies seems so ready to be persuaded by her protestations that “there is no substance” to the “allegations”, when it was clear, even to other Conservative MPs like Michael Fabricant, that there was plenty of substance, is a cause of some concern to those of us who look to our elected MP to represent Fylde in Westminster and not Westminster in the Fylde.

He also enclosed a further letter from Ms Leadsom.
leadsom3

As you can read , it is full of the standard platitudes that we would expect, having listened to her struggling now on more that one occasion. The penultimate paragraph is interesting though as it demonstrates that Ms Leadsom is indeed aware that the SI was deficient in exactly the way that was alleged , and in a way which shows that the government had reneged on its clear undertaking in January that it would ban fracking from National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs), World Heritage Sites and Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs).

When the SI regulations were published, they did not include SSSIs in the ban on fracking and they permitted drilling under National Parks and AONBs at a depth of more than 1,200m. Ms Leadsom in an embarrassing U-turn now has to introduce further statutory legislation to remedy the deficiencies and to keep the promises her government made.

Exactly as was pointed out to Mr Menzies by Defend Lytham in our Open Letter before the committee meeting.

If there is any misinformation and scaremongering going on it is pretty apparent from which direction it is coming isn’t it?

Defend Lytham Urges Mark Menzies to vote against the Statutory Instrument legislation

Defend Lytham has today sent the following open letter to Mark Menzies, MP for Fylde.


Dear Mr Menzies

You have consistently argued that fracking can go ahead, provided there are robust regulations in place.

Those robust regulations must surely start with a commitment to ban fracking from areas that have already been officially designated by law as having high intrinsic value, either because they provide us with drinking water, are important wildlife reserves, and have important landscape value for wildlife, the general public and the local economy.

We are therefore writing to you, on behalf of the members of Defend Lytham and the wider community, regarding secondary legislation on fracking that is to be discussed, and then voted on, in Parliament this week.

Specifically, we would be grateful if you could answer the following questions before the Committee hearing takes place tomorrow.

  1. Will you attend the Delegated Legislation Committee hearing on Tuesday and speak against these flawed proposals?
  1. Will you shout ‘No’! to force a division when a motion to approve the Statutory Instrument is announced in the House of Commons?
  1. Will you vote against the Statutory Instrument legislation when it returns to the Commons for a full vote?
  1. Will you ask for new regulations to be brought forward to ban fracking both in and under SSSIs, National Parks and AONBs and all groundwater SPZs, including a ban on surface works within these protected areas, and a ban on drilling horizontally under these areas from wells situated just outside their borders?

We have prepared the following short briefing on the background, wording and implications of the Statutory Instrument that is to be debated on Tuesday for your information. We would be grateful if you could take the time to read it before letting us know the answers to the above questions.


 

Background Briefing

In January this year, the Government accepted an amendment to the Infrastructure Bill (now Act) that would have banned fracking in all groundwater source protection zones (SPZs), which are the areas that are designated to protect the aquifers that provide our drinking water.

Further to this, during the House of Commons debate on the Infrastructure Bill on 26th January, the then Energy Secretary Amber Rudd also made the following commitment on the floor of the House of Commons: “We have agreed an outright ban on fracking in national parks, sites of special scientific interest and areas of outstanding natural beauty.” Please see the relevant page in Hansard for the above quote.

These specific commitments were not, however, included in the text of the Infrastructure Act when it was passed, despite promises to do so on the floor of the House.

Section 50, Point 4A of the Infrastructure Act includes the following text:

(5) The associated hydraulic fracturing will not take place within protected groundwater source areas

(6) The associated hydraulic fracturing will not take place within other protected areas

However, what would constitute a ‘protected groundwater source area’ and ‘other protected areas’ as related to this particular piece of legislation was postponed until after the General Election by the following sections (Section 50, Point 4B) in the Infrastructure Bill, which states:

(4) The Secretary of State must, by regulations made by statutory instrument, specify—

     (a) the descriptions of areas which are “protected groundwater source areas”, and

   (b) the descriptions of areas which are “other protected areas”,

(6) The Secretary of State must lay a draft of the first such regulations before each House of Parliament on or before 31 July 2015.

On 16th July, just two days before the summer recess, Amber Rudd announced the content of the aforementioned Statutory Instrument (or SI), which, as you know, is a method of introducing secondary legislation on Bills that have already been passed). However, the content of this Statutory Instrument broke promises that had been made by the Government to the British public earlier in the year. Amber Rudd’s broken promises were widely reported in the press, as you can see in these articles in The Guardian.

Protected Groundwater Source Areas

As set out by the Environment Agency, Groundwater Source Protection Zones 1, 2 and 3 are areas around aquifers used for drinking water. The water protected by these areas provides a third of our drinking water.

The type of SPZ is defined by the travel time it would take for water to filter from the SPZ area to the aquifer:

  • SPZ 1 is defined as the total areas in which water would get back to the drinking water source within 50 days, and has a minimum radius of 50 metres.
  • SPZ 2 is where this would take just over a year – 400 days, and has a minimum radius of 250 metres
  • SPZ 3 designates the full catchment area where water would travel back to the drinking water source.

The amendment, as accepted by the Government in January, prohibited fracking in any and all SPZs without exception. However, the text of the SI to define which SPZs are protected is as follows:

Definition of ‘protected groundwater source areas’

2.–(1) This regulation defines ‘protected groundwater source areas” for the purposes of Section 4A of the (Infrastructure) Act.

(2) A ‘protected groundwater source area” is any land at a depth of 1200 metres beneath a relevant surface area.

(3) For the purpose of Paragraph 2, “relevant surface area” means any land at the surface that is –

(a)   within 50 metres of a point at the surface at which water is abstracted from underground strata and is used to supply water for domestic or food production purposes, or

(b)   within or above a zone defined by a 50-day travel time for groundwater to reach a groundwater abstraction point that is used to supply water for domestic or food production purposes.

The regulations as described above in the SI therefore only relate to SPZ1s – which are defined by a 50-day travel time and within 50 metres, as in 3a and b above – where fracking would be permitted below 1,200m (which is only 200m more than the depth allowed in any piece of unprotected land).

However, there are no restrictions on drilling in SPZ 1, 2 or 3, which would create pathways for possible contamination. Under these regulations companies would be allowed to drill through any aquifer in any SPZ. There are also no restrictions on surface activity in any SPZs. This means there are risks of surface and groundwater contamination: if there is a surface spill this could contaminate the surface water and groundwater.

All SPZs (1,2, and 3) feed aquifers used for drinking water and should be protected from the high risks of fracking.

Other Protected Areas

As mentioned above, Amber Rudd had promised the British public during the debate in the House in January that: “We have agreed an outright ban on fracking in national parks, sites of special scientific interest and areas of outstanding natural beauty.”

However, the relevant text defining ‘other protected areas’ in the Statutory Instrument is as follows:

Definition of ‘other protected areas’.

3. – (1) This regulation defines “other protected areas” for the purpose of section 4A of the (Infrastructure) Act.

(2) “Other protected areas are areas of land at a depth of less than 1,200 metres beneath –

a)     a National Park;

b)     The Broads;

c)     an area of outstanding natural beauty: or

d)     a World Heritage site

There are a number of points to make about the above definition of ‘other protected areas’ as defined in the Statutory Instrument.

Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs)

Firstly, it is clear that SSSIs are not included as ‘protected areas’ under the terms of the Statutory Instrument, which means that fracking would be allowed in any SSSI below a depth of 1,000m (the minimum depth of any fracking operation, as defined elsewhere in the Infrastructure Act).

Therefore in SSSIs, which are the most ecologically sensitive of these sites, fracking companies would also be permitted to drill from the surface and frack below 1000m.

On this point, the RSPB said on 16th July that “The government has reneged on its commitment to rule out fracking in some of our most important wildlife sites. Despite promising in January to exclude fracking from SSSIs, today’s announcement ignores any such commitment, leaving some of the UK’s most valuable wildlife sites exposed to risk from future fracking.”

The omission of SSSIs from this legislation has also been strongly criticised by Wildlife Trusts and the RSPB has pointed out that nearly 300 SSSI have been included in the 14th Round of PEDL licences, and has again called for fracking in these areas to be banned.

National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs)

While the text in the Statutory Instrument appears to ban fracking in National Parks and AONBs, it is very important to note that the Statutory Instrument specifically defines these areas as areas of land at a depth of less than 1,200 metres from the surface.

This means, in effect, that the National Park stops at a depth of 1,200 metres and becomes ‘Crown land’, thus available for potential fracking.

At this point it is important to note that the definition of ‘hydraulic fracturing’ in the context of the Infrastructure Act is very limited, and refers only to the actual process of fracturing rock underground, not the whole process of drilling and production. This is specified in Section 4A, Point 1 of the Infrastructure Act, where ‘hydraulic fracturing’ is defined as ‘fracturing of shale or strata encased in shale’ – ie the underground fracturing of shale rock only – not the surface works that would inevitably accompany such hydraulic fracturing.

It is therefore significant that there is nothing contained in the Statutory Instrument or the Infrastructure Act itself to limit any surface works, such as establishing of well-sites or drilling of wells, including within the boundaries of National Parks and AONBs. So, given that the National Park or AONB only extends 1,200m below the surface, the scenario of a fracking company drilling through the park to fracture the rock underneath would not be prohibited under this legislation.

This means that there is nothing within the Infrastructure Act to prevent fracking companies from being allowed to drill from the surface in National Parks and AONBs, as long as they frack below 1,200m (which they would have to anyway, as the Bowland Shale is about 2-3,000m below the surface).

Fracking companies would also be allowed to set up their drilling rigs around the edges of these areas and drill horizontally underneath them.

The Delegated Legislation Committee meeting and subsequent vote

This Statutory Instrument legislation is to be debated at a Delegated Legislation Committee on Tuesday, October 27th, at 2.30 pm – Committee Room 9. The committee is made up of 18 MPs, only one of whom has the threat of fracking in his or her own constituency.

Any MP is allowed to attend the DL Committee meeting and speak in favour or against the legislation, although only those on the committee can vote.

After the DL Committee has met, the SI needs to be formally approved by the Commons. This means that on the next day, or soon after that, a motion for its approval will appear as one of the final items of business on the daily Agenda (or Order Paper).

If enough MPs shout ‘No!’ when this motion to approve SI is announced, it will force a division and there will need to be a full vote in the house (although sadly not a debate). This vote will not be on the same day, but would normally be deferred until the next Wednesday (4th November).

Four questions that your constituents would like answered

Having read our briefing, we would be grateful if you could answer the following questions and either email your responses or post them on your website before the Committee hearing on Tuesday.

1 Will you attend the Delegated Legislation Committee hearing on Tuesday and speak against these flawed proposals?

2 Will you shout ‘No’! to force a division when a motion to approve the Statutory Instrument is announced in the House of Commons?

3 Will you vote against the Statutory Instrument legislation when it returns to the Commons for a full vote?

4 Will you ask for new regulations to be brought forward to ban fracking both in and under SSSIs, National Parks and AONBs and all groundwater SPZs, including a ban on surface works within these protected areas, and a ban on drilling horizontally under these areas from wells situated just outside their borders?

You have been clear that if shale gas extraction is to go ahead it can only do so with robust regulation and strict environmental controls in place.. We ask you to demonstrate a visible commitment to this position by voting against this secondary legislation and asking the government to draft comprehensive legislation to ban fracking in and under legally protected areas.

Thank you for taking the time to read our letter, and we look forward to hearing your response as a matter of urgency.

Kind regards

The Defend Lytham Committee

LCC planners recommend refusal for Cuadrilla Permits

Today planning officers at Lancashire County Council published their long awaited recommendations on Cuadrilla’s applications to extract shale gas at their proposed sites at Roseacre and Preston New Road, Little Plumpton.

The planners cited unacceptable noise and traffic impacts as the reasons for their recommendations

Edward Cook from Defend Lytham commented: “We are delighted that the council’s officers have seen sense and recommended these developments for refusal, although we are more than a little surprised that the other serious concerns expressed by the more than 27,000 people who wrote in to object, appear to have been dismissed.

These concerns are around impacts on air quality, archaeology and cultural heritage, greenhouse gas emissions, community and socio economics, ecology, hydrogeology and ground gas, induced seismicity and subsidence, land use, landscape and visual amenity, lighting, resources and waste, water resources ad public health.

Defend Lytham welcome this decision and trust that political pressure from central government will not be brought to bear on LCC councillors to vote against the recommendations of their own officers next week”

Local MP in shock announcement on fracking

Sadly, not one of our local MPs though.

We are talking about Charlie Elphicke MP for Dover.

This is how his conversion was reported in his local paper

MP now adds his support to the anti-fracking fight

MP Charlie Elphicke has opposed the applications for exploratory drilling in East Kent and says he will raise the issue with Ministers.

More than 200 residents first heard the news that they had the backing of their MP at a meeting at Shepherdswell Village Hall last Wednesday.

The meeting was held by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) with a panel consisting of chairman Richard Knox-Johnston, hydrologist Graham D. Warren, Dover MP Mr Elphicke and district councillor Mog Ovenden.

Mr Elphicke said: “Shale gas exploration offers the opportunity for lower energy bills but I’ve always said we have got to balance that against safety – the risk to the water aquifer and our drinking water is too great.

“So I oppose these applications. In other areas that are more suitable and don’t have the same risks we should explore it but we use the aquifer for all our drinking water. If it could be contaminated this is a risk I don’t think we should take.”

When asked if this was a conflict of interest for the Tory MP, whose leader David Cameron is in support of fracking, he said that as an MP he supports the needs of his constituency first.

Dover’s Labour parliamentary candidate Clair Hawkins was also at the meeting and said that Mr Elphicke’s views had “suddenly shifted”. She said: “After telling chair of CPRE Kent Richard Knox-Johnston he was ‘muddled up’ in a recent BBC Radio Kent interview, Mr Elphicke sat next to Mr Knox-Johnston on the panel and said he is now against the planning application.

“While I welcome this change of attitude we now need to see some action. Mr Elphicke must stand up for the community against both his friend George Osborne and his dash for gas and the fracking companies and their determination to make a fast buck with big tax breaks.”

Stuart Cox, from East Kent Friends of the Earth said: “I’m pleased Charlie Elphicke now opposes fracking in Kent and agrees the risk of water contamination is too high to take but he must now reject fracking nationwide.”

There are three applications from Coastal Oil and Gas Ltd to drill for coal bed methane gas in Guston, Shepherdswell and Tilmanstone. CPRE hydrologist Graham D. Warren explained that due to high angle faults in the coal measures under the three sites, the pressure of even exploratory drilling could fracture the already thin chalk and therefore chemicals could leak into the water supply.


We are very much looking forward to similar insights from our local and national political representatives.

Defend Lytham’s Reaction to David Cameron’s Conference Speech Today

David Cameron said in his closing conference speech today “With its resources under the ground, let’s make Blackpool the centre of Europe for the shale gas industry.

Defend Lytham can understand why, after recent comments made by his ministers, Mr Cameron would want to try to persuade the “desolate” and “unloved” North West that he really does have our interests at heart, but this suggestion is totally unconvincing. The idea that Blackpool could become some sort of new Aberdeen is as fantastical and baseless as Mr Cameron’s recent claims that shale gas will reduce our domestic energy prices.

The reality is that any economic stimulus from the shale gas industry for Blackpool and the Fylde would be very short time and most of the employment opportunities would be for a small number of skilled workers imported from abroad.

The real thrust of what he wants for the shale gas industry can be found elsewhere in his speech “Regulation – down” and “Taxes – cut for businesses”. Nowhere in his speech did we hear about any concern for the blight which shale gas exploitation will inevitably bring to local communities.

Mark Menzies – Defend Lytham ask him for answers on shale gas

Mark Menzies MP

Mark Menzies MP

Defend Lytham has sent a list of 38 questions relating to shale gas extraction to local MP Mark Menzies and will publish his responses on our web site.

The extensive list of questions can be found at

http://www.defendlytham.com/questions-to-mark-menzies-mp/

John Hobson of Defend Lytham commented :

“ Shale gas operations in the UK are being forced through at breakneck speed, with little concern for regulation, and it is time we started to see exactly where our local and national politicians stand on this issue. We hope that Mr Menzies responses will give us all the reassurance that we need.”


Update 26/9/13

It seems from today’s LSE that Mark Menzies has received our list of questions

“A spokesman for Mr Menzies’ office confirmed the letter had been received and would be answered directly”

We look forward very much to receiving some reassuring answers!

The World According to Our Politicians

The world according to our politicians sometimes seems to bear little resemblance to the real world in which we live.

This morning John Hobson from Defend Lytham was interviewed live on air by Radio Lancashire down at the pier in St Annes.

The interview was requested because Ed Davey, the Energy Secretary had made statements about shale gas extraction the previous day.

In fact Radio Lancashire ran a series of interviews.

In the first of these Ed Davey sounded very uncomfortable as he tried to justify the government’s totally inconsistent approaches to the issues of energy pricing and regulation.

You can listen to it by clicking this link

After this Matt Lambert of Cuadrilla reassured listeners about the safety of shale gas. Now Mr Lambert is a perfectly amiable man, but his grasp of the technology is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that he corrected me, at the public consultation in Freckleton, when I asked him about the 100 well pads that Francis Egan said they would need, and told me it was 100 wells not well pads. So this chap, who thinks that Cuadrilla can extract nearly a trillion cubic feet of gas a year using just 100 wells (and not the 4,000 that Mr Egan’s 100 well pads would suggest), feels qualified to reassure us of the safety of shale gas. We think he needs to do a little bit more homework before feeling entitled to dismiss those who don’t agree with his simplistic assertions as “extremists”. Matt’s previous career was in the gambling industry with Betfair. How appropriate.

John’s interview mentioned the safety and regulatory issues and pointed out that Lambert’s other point – that shale was cleaner than gas – was giving a false choice.

You can listen to it by clicking this link

After 8 o’clock Mark Menzies, our local MP was interviewed. Now Mark hasn’t said a great deal publicly about fracking since 2012, even though it will probably be the biggest issue to affect the Fylde in our lifetime, so we listened with great interest. What did he have to say?

Mark Menzies on the front page of Cuadrilla's website

Mark Menzies on the front page of Cuadrilla’s website

Questioned as to what he meant by a Gold Standard for Regulations he stated that “by that I mean the sort of standards that we see in the North Sea, which in terms of offshore are the highest anywhere in the world“.

Perhaps Mr Menzies is not aware that the Off-Shore Safety Division of the HSE (which also looked after onshore rigs) was scrapped and absorbed into a single division covering the whole of the UK Energy Sector on April 1st this year. If this is what he means by a gold standard then we really do need to start worrying!

He went on to say that he wanted these “rigorous” offshore standards applied onshore and gave the example that he thinks “We should be looking at every site having Environmental Impact Assessments“.

Perhaps he hasn’t read the new guidelines from his own government which state “An Environmental Impact Assessment is only required if the project is likely to have significant environmental effects.” and that “it is unlikely that an Environmental Impact Assessment will be required for exploratory drilling operations which do not involve hydraulic fracturing unless the well pad is located in site which is unusually sensitive to limited disturbance occurring over the short period involved“.

When we asked recently whether the Conservatives would support an amendment in the EU making EIAs mandatory for every site, we received a statement of policy from Struan Stevenson MEP indicating that the UK Conservative MEPs would be voting against the amendment tomorrow.

Mr Menzies might trot out blithe statements on the radio about “every site having Environmental Impact Assessments” but it is clear that, even if he does have the best of intentions, nobody in his party is listening to what he says on the subject, and party policy is actively against making EIAs on exploration sites (which is what he says is needed) mandatory.

Challenged as to whether shale gas would mean cheaper prices Mr Menzies floundered in the clear blue water which separates David Cameron and Ed Davey on this subject, suggesting that if we found more gas than current estimates suggest is there then that would have an impact on prices. The consensus is that it would require massive production at a European level to have any downward impact on prices, so we didn’t find him at all convincing there. We suppose that it must be difficult as an MP to have to choose publicly between the conflicting statements made by your Prime Minister and your Energy Minister. In choosing to float in the middle here we don’t think he’ll have pleased either of them, let alone his constituents.

Asked whether fracking should be allowed to resume in our constituency he claimed that “a lot of this now sits in the hands of Lancashire County Council, who as Mineral Rights Authority have got rights over planning

Perhaps he is unaware of the fact that the new planning guidelines limit the role of the County Council to deciding on whether any application represents “an acceptable use of the land, and the impacts of those uses” and effectively forbids them considering “any control processes, health and safety issues or emissions themselves where these are subject to approval under other regimes. Minerals Planning Authorities should assume that these non-planning regimes will operate effectively.” The new proposals would forbid the Mineral Planning Authority from considering “demand for, or consider alternatives to, oil and gas resources when determining planning applications, and would place great pressure on them to “give great weight to the benefits of minerals extraction, including to the economy, when determining planning applications” which would leave any decision against shale gas development open to legal challenge. The government that Mr Menzies is part of is busily stripping away the powers of the Mineral Planning Authority, so his statement above is frankly quite meaningless.

Challenged that “Campaigners say that regulations have been watered down” Mr Menzies states that “there is absolutely no evidence at all of any safety regulations being watered down – the opposite and that will continue to be the case

Apart from the fact that, if he had been listening, he would have heard John give 4 very specific examples of how safety regulations and planning guidelines have been emasculated over the last 6 months, he surely can’t fail to be aware that Mr Cameron famously stated that “No regulation must get in the way” of shale gas extraction. Again we can only conclude that his well-meaning statements are being totally ignored by those with the real power.

Maybe it’s time that Mr Menzies started making a little more noise and being a bit less accepting of the way in which the Government that he is part of is ignoring the things that he is reasonable insisting that we need!

You can listen to it by clicking this link (It is preceded by short extracts from Matt Lambert & John Hobson)

Imprisonment of Information

We believe that the Community Benefits scheme for shale gas is shoddily put together, inadequately thought through and shows every sign of being policy made on the hoof.

It talks fuzzily of payments to communities without defining what a community is, it talks about making payments to county councils when they are te ones being asked to make decisions on related planning applications and it suggests amounts which would scarcely pay for a 20 MPH scheme in Lancashire, let alone provide any meaningful compensation for the financial loss and loss of amenity that would be suffered if shale gas exploration and production were allowed to go ahead.

We have asked Mark Menzies MP whether he agrees that there would be a conflict of interest if County Councils both made decisions on planning applications and received funds if, and only, if they were granted. He has not replied.

We made a Freedom of information Request to the DECC to find out more about the background nearly 2 months ago. We asked for

(a) All submissions to DECC Ministers which concern community benefits
relating to shale gas or fracking during the period 1 January 2012 to the date of
this email;

(b) All correspondence between DECC Ministers and the Office of
Unconventional Gas and Oil (OUGO) which concern community benefits
relating to shale gas or fracking during the same period.

(c) All correspondence between DECC Ministers and Cuadrilla Resources (or
associated companies) on the subject of said community benefits during the
same period.

We finally received this response today from a staffer at the Office of Unconventional Gas and Oil

Thank you for your email of 10th July 2013 where you requested the following
information:

(a) All submissions to DECC Ministers which concern community benefits relating to shale gas or fracking during the period 1 January 2012 to the date of this email;

(b) All correspondence between DECC Ministers and the Office of Unconventional Gas and Oil (OUGO) which concern community benefits relating to shale gas or fracking during the same period.

(c) All correspondence between DECC Ministers and Cuadrilla Resources (or associated companies) on the subject of said community benefits during the same period.

Under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (‘the Act’), you have the right to:
• know whether we hold the information you require
• be provided with that information (subject to any exemptions under the Act which may apply).

We can confirm that we hold information in the scope of your questions (a) and (b).

In relation to the information requested under (a) and (b), we believe this information is exempt from disclosure under Section 35(1)(a) of the Freedom of
Information Act, which provides that information may be exempt from disclosure where it relates to the formulation and development of government policy.
The exemption from disclosure under Section 35(1) (a) of the Act is subject to a public interest test.

We recognise that there is a general public interest in the disclosure of information, as greater transparency makes government more accountable, and there is a public interest in being able to assess the quality of information and advice given to Ministers, which is used in subsequent policy formulation.

However, there is also a public interest in the government making the best possible decisions. Good government depends on good decision-making and this needs to be based on the best advice available and a full consideration of all the options without fear of premature disclosure. As the shale gas industry is at an early stage, policy on community benefits for shale gas is being formulated and reviewed as companies move into exploration and production phases and the industry develops operating experience. The onshore industry launched the Community Engagement Charter on 27 June 2013 and has committed to keeping the Charter and interaction with local communities under review. Industry will be consulting communities on the benefits that will be offered to them, and Ministers will continue to monitor developments in this area. Government policy on community benefits for shale will be formulated and reviewed in light of these developments.

We believe that any disclosure of information of the type specified would prejudice the ability of Ministers and officials to conduct rigorous and candid risk assessments of their policies and programmes including considerations of the pros and cons without there being premature disclosure which might close off better options. In our view, the balance of public interest therefore lies in withholding the information you have requested.

We can confirm that we do not hold the information requested under (c).

We have asked for a review of this decision

We need to be able to see what communication is happening around these community benefits because it is currently being handled in such an obviously incompetent way. The results of disclosure might well be embarrassing but that is surely no reason to refuse the request.

David Cameron’s Support for Shale Gas

This week the Prime Minister, David Cameron, has expressed his support for shale gas saying “Fracking has become a national debate in Britain – and it’s one that I’m determined to win” (1)

In his article he twice tells us that he expects fracking to reduce energy prices, that it will give us 51 years worth of gas supply and that it might create 74,000 jobs. He reassures those of us in the “desolate” and “unloved” regions North of his Oxfordshire constituency that “We are all in this together” and that he wants “all parts of our nation to share in the benefits: north or south, Conservative or Labour”. He tells us that local people must have say in planning decisions about fracking, and tells us we shouldn’t be worried about the environmental impact”. Finally he tells us “we cannot afford to miss out on fracking.”

Defend Lytham would question many of the assertions made by the Prime Minister in his article.

Firstly the suggestion that shale gas will mean any sort of reduction in gas prices has been debunked, not only by bodies like Deustsche Bank, The Committee on Climate Change and Bloomberg Finance, but by Cuadrilla themselves. It seem that the only people who keep perpetuating this myth are those in our government who are trying to make a political case for fracking. Defend Lytham believes that this suggestion is unhelpful in furthering the debate on fracking.

Secondly he suggests that fracking will give us 51 years worth of energy if 10% of the hypothetical reserves could be commercially extracted. This figure is a fine example of the selective use of data. 10% of the BGS estimate is 130 trillion cubic feet (tcf). Average annual gas demand since 2000 has been 3.6 tcf (2). Even allowing the optimistic 10% of the estimated gas in place that would only amount to 36 years. Professor Peter Styles, professor of applied and environmental geophysics at Keele University, who has studied the issue suggests that increased supply would also increase demand and that we should not expect more that 25 years use from 130 tcf (3). To exaggerate the potential by using the lowest figure in the previous 12 years, as Mr Cameron does here, is highly misleading. Defend Lytham believes that a proper assessment of fracking’s potential is necessary if people are to make informed choices.

Thirdly he tells us we can expect around 74,000 jobs. This figure cannot be justified. It comes from a report by the Institute of Directors that ignores huge variations in cost structures between countries and makes hugely over-simplistic comparisons as a result. The report’s author refuses to comment on criticisms of his methodology. Defend Lytham believe that an honest assessment of any potential employment gains and losses which might result from fracking is essential to public understanding of this issue. This figure is definitely not the result of such an honest assessment.

Turning to Mr Cameron’s exhortation that “I want all parts of our nation to share in the benefits: north or south, Conservative or Labour. We are all in this together. ” Defend Lytham was surprised to read in the Daily Mail that, after saying this, Mr Cameron avoided answering the question of whether he would welcome fracking in his own constituency no less than 10 times (4). It seems that there is no sacrifice so great that the Prime Minister won’t talk about it.

Defend Lytham cannot understand how Mr Cameron is able to state that local people will not be “cut out and ignored” as this is precisely the impact that the Government’s new planning guidelines will have, by effectively reducing Lancashire County Council’s role to rubber stamping planning applications.

Mr Cameron’s reassurances regarding environmental impact fail to convince. Ignoring the fact that he doesn’t seem to know the difference between a cricket pitch and a cricket field, he claims that “similar types of drilling have been taking place for decades in this country without any real protest”. As a claim that is as disingenuous as the claim made by Cuadrilla last year that their well at Elswick is representative of future fracking developments. That claim was censured by the Advertising Standards Authority for being misleading and an exaggeration.

Defend Lytham would remind Mr Cameron and the public that shale gas and fracking is such challenging engineering that 50% wells here have failed and that leading academics are calling for more research to be carried out before further experiments are undertaken. It is simply not sensible to be using the UK population as guinea pigs.

Finally he tells us “we cannot afford to miss out on fracking”.

Defend Lytham believes that Mr Cameron has failed to make an adequate or convincing case to support that statement.

1. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/10236664/We-cannot-afford-to-miss-out-on-shale-gas.html
2. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/224643/gas_since_1882_historical_data.xls
3. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/jun/27/britain-shale-gas-deposits-supply-25-years
4. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2390937/Would-David-Cameron-welcome-fracking-constituency.html

Government announce massive tax breaks for fracking

The government today released further details of the most generous tax breaks package in the world, to encourage investment in this financially high risk area. The new shale gas allowance will more than halve the tax due.

Defend Lytham is concerned that Mr Osborne has pressed ahead with this needless subsidy, even against the advice of shale gas advocates like Peter Lilley MP and the industry itself. Mr Lilley, reiterated in parliament yesterday his view that these tax breaks are “completely unnecessary”. And Francis Egan is on record as saying that his company is “not asking for a special regime”

We are equally concerned that the government has failed to provide details of the new planning guidance which we were assured would be published by yesterday at the latest.

A government which ensures that a controversial industry is subsidised before it sorts out the associated planning environment, and which spends more time publicising cash incentives for local communities that it does in ensuring we have effective regulation in place to protect those communities has its priorities very, very wrong.

Defend Lytham believes that this subsidy to the fracking industry is totally unnecessary.

Defend Lytham spokesman and industry expert, Mike Hill, comments “We are being told by the Chancellor that fracking is some sort of economic miracle but it seems that it also needs five times as many incentives (tax breaks/subsidies) as the renewable alternatives. It is now common knowledge that the USA will export cheap gas to the UK – cheaper than we can get it ourselves from our closest ally – so the energy security and financial case for subsidising fracking with taxpayers’ money is just not there. We have to ask why does Osborne carry on wasting our money and what part those with vested interests – Lord Browne and Lord Howell (Mr Osborne’s father in law) who both have huge stakes in oil and gas might have had in this decision? The government needs to get its story straight and its priorities right.”

Frack Free Lancashire

Fracking In the UK

Fracking The UK

If you want to learn about fracking this book comes highly recommended!

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