As the UK government pushes to develop a fracking sector, Conservative MPs are reportedly preparing to rebel over its proposal to allow companies to start drilling without planning permission.
The Republic of Ireland this summer became the fourth European Union member to ban onshore fracking, following France, Germany and Bulgaria, but the government in London continues to drive the technique forward.
About 20 Conservative MPs are expected to vote against the government’s proposal, if ministers decide to try to push it through parliament in 2019. The opposition Labour Party has pledged to ban fracking, meaning the minority Conservative administration would probably fail to push the legislation through.
Cuadrilla is preparing to start the first fracking operation in the UK since it was temporarily banned in 2011 after the company caused minor earthquakes near Blackpool in northwest England.
The London government gave Cuadrilla final approval to frack at two wells at Preston New Road in Lancashire with the approval in July, as parliamentarians were leaving for the summer recess, and the second this week.
Fracking controversially extracts shale gas using chemicals, water and sand released at high pressures into the ground to break rock and force out gas. Environmentalists say fracking carries a huge risk of contaminating water supplies due to the pungent chemicals used. By releasing toxic, radioactive gases and carcinogens, fracking has caused debilitating health and environmental damage in the United States, Canada and China.
The highly centralised UK government published proposals in July to treat test drilling as permitted development, meaning firms no longer needed to gain municipal-level approval. Planning permission for fracking could instead be determined by ministers.
The government appeared unwilling to acknowledge that bypassing regional government undermined voters’ influence on the process.
A Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government spokesman nonsensically said: “No one benefits from delays in planning decisions. That’s why we are committed to planning reforms to help ensure quicker decision-making on shale applications.”
Lee Rowley, MP for North East Derbyshire, opposes Ineos fracking in his constituency and is leading the Conservative resistance as chair of the parliamentary group on fracking.
Rowley’s stance on fracking helped him to defeat the sitting Labour MP in the 2017 general election to become the area’s first Conservative MP since 1935. He said he would oppose exploratory drilling permitted development because “people’s voices must be heard”.
On the subject of whether he would rather import gas, Rowley said: “If it came down to fracking in the UK or continuing to import in the same way we do today, I would choose to continue to import.”
A Chesterfield protest. Fracking seems to be a priority for the Conservative government. Picture credit: Flickr