A lot of constituents have contacted me recently regarding the Government’s regulations on fracking.
As you may be aware, the Government’s weakened regulations would allow fracking in drinking water protection zones and important wildlife sites, as well as under the ground below protected areas such as national parks and areas of outstanding national beauty. I share your concern about these regulations, which I believe are totally inadequate.
While shale gas may have the potential to form part of the UK’s future energy mix, I believe fracking should only go ahead in the context of robust regulation and comprehensive monitoring and in a way that is safe and consistent with our climate change targets.
When the Infrastructure Bill was being debated before the general election, my Shadow Frontbench colleagues tabled an amendment to introduce tough environmental standards before shale gas drilling could go ahead. This included a ban on fracking in areas where drinking water is collected and protected sensitive areas such as our national parks or important wildlife sites.
At the time, this amendment was accepted by the Coalition Government but unfortunately Ministers backtracked and tabled a redrafted amendment in the House of Lords which removed a number of these protections, notably the ban on drilling in or under national parks and where drinking water supplies are nearby. Unfortunately these weaker amendments were agreed by a majority of MPs and formed part of the Infrastructure Act.
I share your concern that the Government is failing to provide critical environmental safeguards and I strongly oppose the Government’s U-turn on fracking regulations. I believe that no fracking should take place in the UK unless the safeguards that my Shadow Frontbench colleagues set out in the last Parliament are re-introduced.
It is disappointing the Government tried to sneak through its inadequate fracking regulations through a parliamentary backdoor. As you may be aware, the draft regulations were laid before Parliament in the form of a Statutory Instrument which was referred to a Delegated Legislation (DL) Committee, on 27 October. Fracking is a serious issue which I believe deserves a full debate. I am pleased Labour members of the DL Committee voted against the Government’s regulations and that my Shadow Frontbench colleagues are pressing for the regulations to be debated on the floor of the House of Commons.
I believe the Government must listen to genuine and widely held concerns about fracking, rather than railroad through changes to the legislation which could have a damaging and long lasting effect on our natural environment. I hope that Parliament will soon have the opportunity to properly scrutinise these regulations.
Rt Hon Hilary Benn MP