Government Fracking Proposals Are An Attack On Democracy

30 July 2018
Updated 7 September 2018, 8 October 2018

The Government is currently trying to push two new pieces of legislation through Parliament, both relating to fracking.

Most of you will be aware of the application by INEOS to test drill for shale gas at Bramleymoor Lane (Marsh Lane), culminating in the Public Inquiry in June. Local groups Eckington Against Fracking (EAF) and Coal Aston & Dronfield Against Fracking (CADAF), as well as individual residents, had the opportunity to submit written objections and to speak up against this application at the Inquiry, through the current Planning procedures.

But the Government now wants to “fast-track” fracking by introducing legislation to by-pass these procedures.

“NATIONALLY SIGNIFICANT INFRASTRUCTURE PROJECTS”

Firstly, they want to include applications for fracking in the “Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects” (NSIP) scheme: this would mean that any plans for fracking would go directly to the Government and not to Local Authorities, thus undermining and reducing the ability of local communities, residents and businesses to raise their objections. Local Authorities are far better placed to judge the needs and requirements of local communities and to assess the impact that drilling and fracking would have on the local area. Even the Government themselves set out this principle in the 2011 Localism Act. But now they want to go against their own Act of Parliament (which everyone else must comply with) just to make things easier for the fracking companies.

If fracking were to take place it would not be run by the Government. It would be carried out by numerous separate private companies operating entirely independently of each other and whose primary interest would be to make a profit; in fact, in the case of INEOS, they openly admit that their primary interest is to obtain shale gas for their own use so that they can extract methane to fuel their factories and ethane as a base material for making plastics. The “national interest” is fairly low down INEOS’ list of priorities. It is difficult to see how all this could justifiably be described as a “national project”. It most certainly is not a national project in the sense that (for example) HS2, Hinckley Point C or the Third Heathrow Runway might be. Additionally, because the fracking companies would be working independently of each other there would be no real “infrastructure” in the accepted sense of the word: there would be wells and drillpads springing up all over the place with no link-up between them.

Even more worrying is that this move would also permit the compulsory purchase of land to allow for fracking.

TEST DRILLING AS “PERMITTED DEVELOPMENT”

Secondly, the Government want to treat the exploratory phase (where fracking companies carry out test drilling) as “Permitted Development”, meaning that no Planning Permission would be needed at all: it would be as easy as putting up a garden shed! This is the exploratory phase that INEOS were applying for at Bramleymoor Lane: if this proposed new legislation had been in place last year, no-one would have been consulted, there would have been no Planning process and no Public Inquiry. No-one would have had any rights to object and INEOS would have been able to just start drilling without seeking any permission other than from the land owner. Let’s just get this in perspective: exploratory drilling involves the creation of a drill pad (which could vary in size, typically from 1.7 to 3.5 acres, roughly the size of 1 to 2 football pitches), the erection of numerous site cabins and toilet facilities and the construction of a drilling rig up to 60m high: that is the equivalent height of a 20-storey tower block. In the case of the Bramleymoor Lane (Marsh Lane) Application, the proposed site is about 9,000 sq metres (or 2.22 acres), containing numerous site cabins rising to about 5.5m in height with surrounding security fencing and bunding rising to a similar height. A section of mature hedgerow will be removed to increase road visibility at the access point to the site. Throughout the drilling operation there will be noise and light disturbance at night-time for residents living little over 300m from the site. The drilling process would last for three months drilling day and night, running hundreds upon hundreds of HGV movements in the process and using up many thousands of gallons of water; but in the Bramleymoor Lane Application, INEOS have been granted permission to occupy the land for five years with wellhead assembly gear being retained throughout. This means that, if they find what they are looking for, they would immediately want to apply to start full fracking operations on that site.

And the Government wants to rule that it’s no more significant than a shed in your back garden.

Both these consultations were published on the 19th of July and the closing time for both is identical at 11:45pm on 25 October 2018, so it is clear that they should be considered together. The effect of the two proposals combined is that local people, local communities would lose their voice; their opinions and opposition simply would have no place in the matter. But it is even more serious than that: it is a direct attack on democracy, removing people’s democratic rights to have a say; to have a voice in what happens in and to their local community. North East Derbyshire could be forced into accepting widespread industrialisation through fracking with dire effects on the environment, on the landscape and potentially on the health and well-being of everyone living here, and that of livestock and wildlife.

Extensive opposition to fracking has been expressed across the country (resulting in many action groups such as CADAF being formed) and it is clear that there is no “social licence” for this industry. And yet the Government proposes these new measures which prioritise the wishes of the oil and gas industry over and above those of local residents and communities. If they are passed, it would mean that fracking would be forced onto communities who do not want it and who have repeatedly and persistently said so.

WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT?

The Government is currently running a Consultation which closes on 25 October 2018 seeking views about this and Councils are being encouraged to participate. CADAF are urging all residents of Coal Aston and Dronfield to write to your local Councillors, your MP and Government Ministers asking them to take part in this Consultation by opposing these plans and the attack on democracy they imply. You can find your local Councillors here:
Derbyshire County Council (click to see map)

We have prepared a series of letters which you can use.
There’s one for your local Derbyshire County Councillor, one for our MP Lee Rowley and one each for the Government Ministers Claire Perry, Greg Clark and James Brokenshire. They are quick and easy to use and are available in both “Word” and “pdf” formats, just choose whichever one you prefer by following these links:
Letters to Politicians: “.pdf” format
Letters to Politicians: “Word” Format
Or if you prefer, you can write your own letter in your own words.

You can also get help from CPRE (the Campaign to Protect Rural England) by filling in the form here and they’ll send a stock letter to the Leader of Derbyshire County Council for you.

You can also take part directly in the Consultations themselves. Here are the websites enabling you to do this:
Inclusion of Fracking in Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects
Inclusion of Exploratory Drilling as “Permitted Development”
For each of these you may Copy & Paste the text of the letters to Greg Clark (for the NSIP Consultation) or James Brokenshire (for the Permitted Development Consultation). Alternatively the organisation Frack Free United have published two excellent guides to help you fill in the forms:
Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects
Permitted Development

See also our blog article “Petition the PM”.

There is also a Petition to Greg Clark, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy which you can sign by clicking on this link.

If you value your freedom of speech, if you value having your right to have your voice heard, if you value your democracy please, please, please do at least one and (if you have time) preferably all of the above.

FURTHER READING

  • Alex Dale serves as a Councillor on all 3 of our local Councils: Dronfield Town Council, North East Derbyshire District Council and Derbyshire County Council. He sits on numerous Council committees. He has had an excellent statement published in the Yorkshire Post about these proposals: you can read it here.
  • The Mirror’s online news carried this article.
  • FrackFree Ryedale have published a brilliant “Your Questions Answered” leaflet which you can read online here.

UPDATE 8 OCTOBER 2018
Derbyshire County Council have submitted their response to both of these Consultations, stating firmly their opposition to each of them. You can read their response in full here.

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