Lancashire MPs speak out against fast track frack drilling proposals

Fylde MP Mark Menzies
Fylde MP Mark Menzies

Lancashire MPs spoke out against Government plans to fast track fracking drilling in a debate in Parliament.

Fylde MP Mark Menzies, Preston MP Sir Mark Hendrick and Lancaster and Fleetwood and Lancaster’s Cat Smith all expressed concerns about taking exploratory drilling out of the planning permission process, which the Conservatives have proposed to speed up development of the shale gas industry.

Preston MP Sir Mark Hendrcik

Preston MP Sir Mark Hendrcik

The debate had been called by Bath MP Wera Hobhouse who was concerned the move would side-step local democracy and said: "Last October, the Government consultations on giving shale gas exploration permitted development rights and classifying sites under the national significant infrastructure regime came to an end. The Government have yet to publish their responses to those consultations."

Mr Menzies, whose constituency has Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road fracking site, said: “It is absolutely critical that permitted development, which has a place in our planning system, is for, say, a small extension to a bungalow or a conservatory, not for an enormous industrial estate that will produce tens of thousands of tonnes of pollutants and have thousands of vehicle movements per year.”

He cited the case of the recently rejected Roseacre Wood fracking site where Cuadrilla’s bid to drill was turned down due to traffic safety issues on rural lanes.

He said: “A fundamental reason why a site was turned down, would not be a consideration under permitted development. If the Minister is looking for a reason why this proposal does not stack up, refer to Roseacre Wood.”

Fleetwood and Lancaster MP Cat Smith

Fleetwood and Lancaster MP Cat Smith

Mark Hendrick said the nation needed a mix of energy sources but pointed to the earth tremors in 2011 and the tremors at Preston New Road last year.

He said: “Over a two-week period in November, there were something like 30 recorded events of seismic activity with a 1.1 magnitude tremor. That is twice the level indicated by the former Secretary of State, the Government at the time or Cuadrilla itself. The people of Lancashire have had enough of this.”

Cat Smith said: “Many of my constituents are concerned that the traffic light warning system is maintained, despite the pressure from some fracking companies.”

Also taking part in the debate was Sir Ed Davey, who was secretary of sate for energy in the coalition government which allowed fracking to resume after the 2011 tremors.

He said a cautious approach had been taken at the time and tremor limits set at 0.5 to prevent a recurrence of the seismic activity which had upset residents.

He said: "I came to the view, and accepted the recommendation, that the traffic light system was the way to go and that we needed a precautionary approach, not least because the geologists and experts were telling us that even a small seismic event underground could damage the casing of the wells and the bore holes of the fracks.

"The relaxation of regulations, whether on seismicity or planning, is completely unjustified, and I hope the House will send a clear message to ministers."

Speaking in a joint statement after the debate, Friends of the Earth and Council for the Protection of Rural England among other environmental groups said:

“There have been 57 earthquakes in Lancashire since fracking started. Yet the government wants to rip up the planning rulebook and fast-track fracking without community consent.

“Today MPs from across the political spectrum voiced their outrage at these plans and condemned the fracking industry for attempting to weaken vital earthquake regulations."