Fracking – next steps

On 4th November 2019, the Government announced a significant change to its fracking policy through the introduction of an immediate moratorium on further fracking within England. The details of this policy announcement can be found here: https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statement/Commons/2019-11-04/HCWS68/.

Fracking has been one of the biggest issues in North East Derbyshire for the entire time I have been a Member of Parliament. The proposal to drill at Bramleymoor Lane has cast a long shadow over our area and the overwhelming majority of people both close to the proposed site, and across the constituency as a whole, remain opposed to it. Back in 2017 when I became your MP, I promised I would campaign against the application and seek to stop it happening. Since then, I have done just that and have also been one of the MPs who has led the wider fight against fracking in the last Parliamentary session. This has included organising debates, meeting with Ministers, submitting dozens of questions, establishing a new Parliamentary group to monitor the impact of fracking, inviting experts to Parliament to discuss the matter, convincing an independent watchdog to investigate, introducing new legislation to stop earthquakes and speaking against the Bramleymoor Lane application on multiple occasions.

I strongly welcomed the decision by the Government to change policy in November. As I have said to residents over many months whilst we fought this battle, getting any Government to change key elements of their policy is difficult and akin to turning around a supertanker in mid-flow – it takes time, patience and a need to properly engage with the arguments to win people around. I always thought it would be a challenge but the weight of evidence, to me, seemed to point to fracking not being realistic or practical within the United Kingdom and I thought, over time, we could make a strong case. I am very glad to see the policy change.

More than that, I think the wording in the written ministerial statement is very helpful to those of us who have opposed fracking. Whilst the Government has been clear it will be led by the evidence, it has also stated explicitly that the attempts to frack last year in Lancashire, and the consequences of that attempt, were “clearly unacceptable” and that the moratorium will be maintained unless and until new evidence is presented. It also completely abandons the plans to loosen the planning rules around fracking, or determine fracking applications centrally, which was another key part of our campaigns last year.

During the General Election campaign, fracking was discussed extensively, including at many of the hustings that we held around the constituency. As will happen in an election campaign, there was a significant amount of political knockabout and fracking was caught in the crossfire of political point scoring. At a time when we had largely achieved our objective to stop fracking, new litmus tests were created by those seeking to differentiate their positions. That, I guess, is inevitable in politics! Notwithstanding that, my position has always been and will remain the same: that I oppose Bramleymoor Lane (and will fight it) and that I do not think fracking works for the UK as a whole (and I will fight it).

A number of residents have been in touch since the election to ask about what happens now with fracking. Well, from my perspective – and for what it is worth – I think the Government is absolutely genuine about the moratorium and about changing policy. I know that some concerns were raised during the election campaign about whether the moratorium might prove to be temporary and that it may return soon after. As someone who has campaigned extensively in Parliament on this, I absolutely do not think that is the case. Of course, there are a range of opinions down in Westminster on fracking. Some, like me, think it is a bad idea. Others are willing to try it. There is nothing inherently wrong with that latter position, although I strongly disagree with it. Whether they conceptually think it is a good idea or not, most people now, however, realise that fracking is not a policy which seems practical and are supportive of the moratorium. I would expect and hope that energy policy discussions move on to other issues rather than trying to unpick the moratorium in the future.

So, in this new Parliamentary term, I wanted to set out my view on where we are and where we go next. Firstly, I take the Government at its word that it has stopped fracking in the United Kingdom and it will not change that policy without compelling new evidence. I think the argument against fracking has been won and that the many thousands of residents and campaigners who have fought to change policy have really achieved something here. As a result, we need to move the campaign from one of activism to vigilance – that we have largely achieved our aims and that we now need to keep watching this issue to make sure that there are no problems in the future and that the current moratorium is strong enough not to be circumvented.

In North East Derbyshire, therefore, I will continue to work with our local anti-fracking groups to support them in areas where we can work together. I am also continuing to monitor the current planning application for Bramleymoor Lane with Derbyshire County Council until the permissions to explore run out on the 16th of August 2021.

And down in Parliament, I will re-constitute the All Party Parliamentary Group on the Impact of Shale Gas so that it is ready and available in case there are any issues in the future (which I hope there won’t be). We will hold an Annual General Meeting in the coming months and then will organise meetings as needed.

I also think there are a couple of points to pick up on the moratorium which need further focus. The announcement back in November said that the Oil and Gas Authority, the body charged with reviewing this area by Government, would continue to put together evidence on how fracking works. I want to understand what additional evidence is being put together by interested parties like the OGA. I am currently in correspondence with them and will come back shortly. And, secondly, we need to make sure that it is clear that, given there is no future for fracking, there is no point in exploratory drilling. That is something I am working on at the moment and, again, will report back when I have further information.

All told, I want to tie up any loose ends and make sure that fracking has permanently and absolutely gone away. Ultimately, the proof on that will be time and little else – so we will be vigilant in the coming months as the moratorium beds in and the policy recedes, hopefully, into the distance.

Finally, I just also wanted to address one other point that a small number of residents have been in touch about – that of a ban. I know that there are some in the anti-fracking community who are unwilling to stop the campaign until a ban is put in place. I respect their positions and their desire to continue but, from my perspective, I am unsure that is a good use of time or, practically, changes anything on a day-to-day basis even if it did come into practice. Most campaigners have accepted that the decisions by other Governments, such as the Scottish Government, to stop fracking are the end of the matter – and they were moratoriums not bans. If it is sufficient in Scotland, I think it is sufficient in England. Whilst I wish those who want to pursue a ban well, I think my focus is best maintained on the points I have raised above.

Of course, if there was any likelihood of fracking coming back (which I hope and expect there won’t be), then, as I said in the hustings during the election campaign, I would do whatever was necessary to try to stop that including a ban if necessary. For the moment, however, a ban would not change anything on the ground and my preference is to work on ensuring the moratorium framework is strong.

We’ve made extraordinary progress over the past few years on fracking. Eighteen months ago, the Government were pushing ahead with fracking across the country and were planning on loosening planning rules to help it achieve that. Fast forward to January 2020 and we are now in a place where the policy has been reversed, the Government have a presumption against fracking, a moratorium stops fracking happening anywhere in England and the plans to loosen the planning rules have been abandoned. That is huge progress and thank you again for all of your support and help in getting us to that place. We have really achieved something here – and the campaign now moves into a different phase. I will continue to be vigilant to ensure fracking does not return and to work on the outstanding points described above.

Together, we have achieved a big win here. Thank you again for everything you did. North East Derbyshire said it didn’t want fracking. And now, thanks to everyone’s efforts, it won’t happen.