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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

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)

Frack Free Lancashire

Fracking In the UK

Fracking The UK

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

"Untrustworthy, unbalanced and potentially brain washing." - Amazon Review - Yes the industry hates this book that much :-)