MPs have given the thumbs up to fracking - but this one's far from over

Posted by simon clydesdale — 27 January 2015 at 6:01pm - Comments
Our petition asking MPs to say no to fracking under homes reached 361,736 signat
All rights reserved. Credit: Jiri Rezac | Greenpeace UK
Our petition asking MPs to say no to fracking under homes reached 361,736 signatures

Yesterday, after much wrangling, the Infrastructure Bill was approved by MPs. The government had designed this new legislation to be the fracker’s charter. But it has now emerged in a rather different form than Mr Cameron and the fracking industry planned when they first concocted their irresponsible wishlist to help them frack across the UK.

Government and MPs faced a barrage of opposition to fracking as the Commons debate approached. Last week our petition – calling on MPs to vote against Cameron’s plan to allow fracking firms to drill under our homes – passed 360,000 signatures. And in the hours before MPs debated the issue in Parliament, a 300-strong crowd gathered outside Westminster for a rally to oppose fracking. They heard speeches from MPs, ex UK climate envoy John Ashton, Bianca Jagger, Vivienne Westwood, and many community activists.

The days running up to the fracking vote yesterday had seen frenzied activity as MPs put down amendments calling for a moratorium, a ban, no change to trespass laws, and carbon limits, whilst a range of conditions on fracking was submitted by Labour.

To add to the pressure early Monday morning the Environmental Audit Committee published its report ‘Environmental Risks of Fracking’, calling for a moratorium. And excruciatingly for the government on the morning of the vote, we saw proof that Chancellor George Osborne is joined at the hip with the fracking industry. Mr O’s letter to colleagues laying out plans to pull out all the stops for fracking was leaked, leaving nobody in any doubt where government energy priorities lie.

Inside and outside the Commons, increasingly the government was discovering that the cosy political consensus on fracking that it has worked so hard to build was crumbling before its very eyes. Pressure was growing from MPs and constituents to restrict and stop fracking. Seeing that it was in for a very bumpy ride the Government disgracefully contrived to squeeze the debate on fracking into less than two hours.

MPs spoke passionately about the pressure from constituents opposing fracking, about the need to slow down the shale rush, to consider the risks and the evidence. The debate became chaotic and agitated and government began to scramble around for concessions.

Government’s anxiety about losing the vote on Labour’s list of fracking conditions meant they made a u-turn and allowed these to pass without a vote. These will restrict but not prevent fracking, meaning no fracking in protected areas such as National Parks, or in areas where we source drinking water.

And although the vote on a moratorium (temporary freeze on fracking) was lost, 52 MPs still supported it, including two Conservative Lancashire MPs – Mark Menzies MP for Fylde (the area facing Cuadrilla’s fracking plans) and Eric Ollerenshaw (of Lancaster and Fleetwood).

So the political weather is changing on fracking. The government’s campaign is sagging badly under the weight of grassroots pressure, which will only increase as fracking plans arrive in communities – but where to next?

The Infrastructure Bill will now head back to the House of Lords, to be wrapped up soon after some further wrangling and no doubt renewed lobbying from the bottomless pockets of Mr Osborne’s bosom buddies.

In the meantime, all eyes turn to Lancashire, a key battleground in the fracking fight. Lancashire is being lined up to be the laboratory for the UK’s fracking experiment, yet its own MPs want a moratorium. They face tens of thousands of constituents, businesses, community groups and unions who are deeply unhappy about the risks and impacts fracking their countryside and villages would bring.

Last week Cuadrilla received the news that planners at Lancashire County Council had recommended refusal of their two applications to frack. The council is due to decide on these applications this week, although Cuadrilla is making a desperate last-ditch attempt to delay the meeting.

We are now just 100 days away from the general election. The government is expected to award licenses to frack across half of Britain over the coming months. There could be a heavy political price to pay for politicians who fail to take a stance that chimes with the mood in their constituency on fracking. The fight goes on, taking place on doorsteps, in council decision chambers and at proposed fracking sites.

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