May's government accused of 'trampling over democracy' by approving fracking at second well near Blackpool

Cuadrilla says it now hopes to start fracking at two wells in Lancashire within weeks

Adam Lusher
Wednesday 19 September 2018 18:57
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Theresa May’s government has been accused of “trampling over democracy” by approving fracking at a second well near Blackpool while MPs are away from parliament and can’t challenge the decision.

Energy and clean growth minister Claire Perry announced that Cuadrilla will be allowed to frack a second well at its Preston New Road site six days after parliament went into recess for the party conference season.

Ms Perry had approved fracking at the first well in July, on the last day of parliament before the summer recess.

Her latest move also comes as up to 20 backbench Conservative MPs are said to be ready to rebel against government proposals to fast-track fracking applications by removing the need to get full planning permission for the test drilling that precedes the controversial process itself.

Former Tory vice-chairman Ben Bradley said the proposal to let test drilling proceed under “permitted development” rules that normally apply to only minor house improvements “could mean they could install that infrastructure at the end of your garden without you having a say”.

Ms Perry’s decision to allow fracking at the second Preston New Road well has provoked further anger and renewed claims that the government is seeking to avoid public scrutiny over the process.

Cuadrilla responded to the announcement by saying it hoped to start fracking both wells “in the next few weeks”.

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said the minister’s decision was “unbelievable”.

She added: “Claire Perry has just granted permission for another fracking well at Preston New Road just two months after it trampled over local democracy and approved the first.

“And they’ve done it during recess so MPs can’t hold them to account.”

Pam Foster of Frack Free Lancashire said the timing of the announcement was symptomatic of the way the government operates over fracking, which is formally known as hydraulic fracturing.

She told The Independent: “They know it’s totally unpopular; they know some of their own MPs are against it, so they sneak this through in an underhand manner.

“They seek to avoid scrutiny at every twist and turn. The government has just been giving Cuadrilla whatever it wants, while we have been given redacted reports and reports that have been sat on for years.”

Ms Foster added: “Claire Perry will be promoting Green Great Britain Week next month. It’s totally hypocritical. Fracking will be an absolute environmental disaster for this area.

“The evidence of the damaging environmental, climate and health implications of fracking continues to mount, yet this government is determined to push it through, and the people of Lancashire are going to bear the brunt of it.”

Opponents of fracking – in which water, sand and chemicals are injected into underground rock at high pressure to allow shale gas to flow out – have also claimed that the process can also cause earthquakes as well as noise and traffic pollution.

The government called a temporary halt to the process in 2011 after test fracking by Cuadrilla at its Preese Hall site, about eight miles from Preston New Road, was deemed the probable cause of two minor earthquakes of 1.5 and 2.2 magnitude.

Fracking remains banned or suspended in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

In England, however, the government lifted the temporary fracking ban in late 2012, after a government-appointed panel said that although the process might cause more earth tremors, they would be too small to do structural damage above ground.

After a “traffic light” regime was introduced under which tremors of 0.5 magnitude or above would trigger an immediate halt to fracking, David Cameron’s government claimed shale gas could support 74,000 jobs and help secure energy supplies while Britain moved towards a low-carbon economy.

In 2014 Mr Cameron announced that local councils could keep 100 per cent of business rates collected from shale gas operations and said “We’re going all out for shale.”

In a prepared statement explaining her approval of fracking at the second Preston New Road well, Ms Perry said: “I have carefully considered Cuadrilla’s application and I am content that hydraulic fracturing consent should be granted in this instance.”

She added: “Shale gas has the potential to be a new domestic energy source, further enhancing our energy security and helping us with our continued transition to a lower-carbon economy.

“It also has the capacity to deliver substantial economic benefits, both nationally and locally, as well as the creation of well paid, high-quality jobs.

“We already have an excellent, long-standing reputation for safe oil and gas exploration. Our world class regulations will ensure that shale exploration will maintain robust environmental standards and meet the expectations of local communities.”

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has yet to respond to The Independent’s questions about the timing of the announcement.

In a statement on the Cuadrilla website, the company’s chief executive Francis Egan said: “We are delighted to receive this consent. We are currently completing works on site in readiness to start hydraulically fracturing both wells in the next few weeks.

“The UK’s need for a new and reliable source of natural gas, the cleanest fossil fuel, is underlined by a new report suggesting the UK is going to have to rely on more coal to generate electricity.

“That would be a massive backwards step in reducing carbon emissions, as would continuing to import gas over long distances by pipe and ship.

“We are very proud to be the first operator in the UK to make significant headway in shale gas exploration.”

John Kersey, of the pro-fracking group Lancashire for Shale, told the Blackpool Gazette: “This is really good news. The fact final approval has to come from a government minister shows just how seriously everyone takes the regulatory side of things.”

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