Fracking: MPs and Lords have derelicted their legal duties.
With thanks to Jojo Mehta
The rushed passage of the Infrastructure Bill with all its pro-fracking provisions and toothless ‘safeguards’ is an abuse of democracy. And as it’s manifestly against the national and public interest, it’s also in breach of both MPs’ and Lords’ legally binding Codes of Conduct.
The Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament
Among other obligations it reminds MPs that they “have a general duty to act in the interests of the nation as a whole; and a special duty to their constituents”, and that they must “take decisions solely in terms of the public interest”, the latter obligation also applying to members of the House of Lords.
As public servants both MPs and Lords are, moreover, “accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office.”
Anyone in either House who supported this corrupt, dangerous and ridiculously rushed piece of legislation has acted in blatant contravention of their legally-binding Code of Conduct.
The public and national interest trampled underfoot
The Commons proceeded to significantly amend the fracking clauses in the Bill, and if their amendment 21 had stood, fracking would not have been permitted in AONBs, SSSIs, National Parks, under aquifers, etc, and drilling companies would have had to go through a number of procedures in order to frack including individual notification of local residents.
However, the Lords replaced this amendment in short order, doing two things:
• watering down the safeguards proposed by the Commons so as to make them toothless and dependent upon secondary legislation; and
• applying those weakened safeguards only to fracking using over 1,000 cubic metres of fluid, meaning that all exploratory and potentially even medium scale production could escape the safeguards altogether.
The Lords made these replacement amendments at the final ‘ping pong’ stage of the bill, and the Commons were assigned a paltry 1 hour’s discussion to address them. The Commons vote showed that MPs were now strongly divided about fracking (257 in favour of the Lords amendments, 203 against), but the amendments were still passed.
Only Caroline Lucas MP (Green) pointed out the farcical nature of these phantom safeguards, but there was no time to explore further. The following morning on 12th February, with truly unseemly haste, the Bill was made law.
We now have a situation where, by law, drilling companies can frack wherever they like with no special permission, as long as they use less than 1,000 cubic metres of fluid – about the volume of a large municipal swimming pool.
To our knowledge, all fracks carried out to date in the UK have used significantly less. Certainly what this means is that all future drilling that uses less than 1,000 cubic meters of fluid is exempt from all the safeguards drafted.
Goodbye ‘Green and Pleasant Land’
Reading the Hansard scripts of the discussions that took place on this Bill, we don’t think any of those in favour of the Act that was passed have a clue what fracking actually looks like in production. They seem to be chatting about a well or two here or there, nothing to disturb a national park … do they really not know? It requires hundreds of wells, four to every square mile, to make a viable production facility.
One clause of the Infrastructure Act remained virtually unchallenged from start to finish, and that is a clause adjusting the Petroleum Act 1998, apparently making it a legal obligation for the Government to “maximise the economic recovery of UK petroleum” and for the relevant Secretary of State to create a strategy for doing this in whatever way he sees fit.
MPs may make the law – but that does not make them above the law.