I welcome the Drafts Minerals and Waste Plan and its comprehensive approach to key aspects of the legal and regulatory requirements for hydraulic fracturing for shale gas in my constituency of Thirsk and Malton. I have made it clear, from the moment fracking was given the go ahead by a majority of over 250 in the House of Commons, that it should only proceed if robust regulations are in place.
It is right that there must be a balance between the national benefits from exploration and development of shale gas and the need to protect local communities and the environment and, furthermore, that this should be constantly under review.
I pressed heavily for the Government’s announcement that there would be no surface activity in ‘protected areas’ (National Parks, AONB’s, Protected Groundwater Source Areas, Scheduled Monuments, Special Protection Areas, Special Areas of Conservation and Sites of Special Scientific Interest). I fully support the proposal within the plan for a 3.5km buffer zone around these areas.
Concerns have been raised about the potential industrialisation of the area, increased traffic and particularly heavy vehicles, noise and pollution to water supplies. Therefore, I agree that it is right that hydrocarbon development will only be permitted in locations with suitable direct or indirect access to classified A or B roads and that access to the sites are appropriate to the volume and nature of any road traffic. I also welcome the fact that the number of individual wells will be limited to 10 well pads per 100/sq km, I would, however, suggest that it is made clear that the density restrictions apply specifically to non-protected areas and buffer zones; i.e. that there are no more than 10 well pads per 100 sq km in non-protected areas and associated buffer zones. If this were not the case, development could be much more heavily concentrated in locations outside protected areas.
Separation distances specified (page 90) should also provide for minimum distances from schools and medical establishments, a minimum of one mile would be more appropriate at this stage until more evidence on environmental impact is available. This will ensure protection from adverse impacts of noise, light pollution, emissions to air or ground and surface water.
I welcome the introduction of independent scientific monitoring to establish the baseline and ongoing water and air quality and seismic activity, before, during and after work takes place. This also monitors methane in water and fugitive emissions of methane into the air, so any impacts from fracking will quickly become apparent.
It is essential that, as fracking is a new industry to the UK, regulations should be kept under review and changed as it develops. This year I have set up an All Party Parliamentary Group for Shale Gas Regulation and Planning which will examine all aspects of the regulatory regime surrounding fracking. We are currently taking evidence from a whole range of experts and people from within the industry as well as community groups. The report will make recommendations and this will provide us with an opportunity to make sure that all issues are properly taken into consideration.
Whilst these problems are temporary (because once the fracking operation is up and running, there will be minimal impact on local communities) they do need to be moderated by all available means and those communities affected should be properly compensated for any inconvenience caused. The Government estimates that community benefits paid directly by the producer over the 25-year life of a single well-pad would be in the order of £10m. Ineos have stated that they will pay much more than this figure, possibly as much as £370m for a ten well-pad network. In addition, the Government will also allocate 10% of any tax receipts to a shale gas wealth fund and are consulting on how this might be distributed. My preference would be that this should be shared between the wider community and directly to the householders who suffer the brunt of any disturbances.
Finally, I have made it clear that if exploration cannot be carried out whilst staying inside acceptable environmental limits then I will call for a moratorium.
Kevin Hollinrake MP
Member of Parliament, Thirsk & Malton Constituency
House of Commons