A wide-ranging review of the onshore petroleum licensing system in Northern Ireland is underway, the economy minister, Diane Dodds, said this afternoon.
Two fathers in their 50s have occupied the rig at the Horse Hill oil site in Surrey this morning in protest at fossil extraction.
A LOCAL anti-fracking campaigner has lodged a complaint against a Department for the Economy (DfE) contract which would research the potential effects of oil and gas production, including fracking, claiming the study does not look at the concerns of public health.
Diane Little, of LAMP, said the requirements for awarding the contract did not take into account the potential effects that fracking would have on the health of the public.
The DfE website states several general aims of the research. These include to inform understanding, based on a current knowledge of the resources that might exist in Northern Ireland, of the potential economic, social and environmental benefits and disbenefits of onshore oil and gas development for conventional and unconventional gas development, in both the exploration phase and commercial extraction stages.
The research also has several further aims which, broadly speaking, include to inform identification of the key economic, social and environmental variables that may be impacted by conventional and unconventional gas development.
It has been speculated that the Department’s Director of Corporate Governance, Colin Woods, has asked for the awarding of the contract to be delayed as he investigates the complaints from Ms. Little.
When contacted by this newspaper to confirm whether the awarding of the contract had been paused, a DfE spokesperson said: “In 2019, the Department for the Economy began a wide-ranging review of petroleum licensing policy.
“An initial high-level review identified that, although a large amount of research is already available into the impacts of petroleum production, especially unconventional oil and gas production – including high-volume hydraulic fracturing – the information is not directly applicable to the unique position in Northern Ireland.
“The Department is therefore seeking to commission independent research into the economic, societal and environmental impacts of onshore petroleum exploration and production to ensure that there is sufficient knowledge of these issues, and the interaction between them, to inform the formulation of evidence-based future petroleum licensing policy options.”
When asked to further clarify whether the process had been stalled, the Department would not provide any more information.
Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon is to change planning rules to tighten up regulations on fracking.
Currently, exploration for oil and gas – including via fracking – can proceed under what were known as permitted development rights.
It meant planning permission was only needed if firms wanted to move to commercial extraction.
But the minister says she plans to extend the planning permission requirement to cover exploration.
It would deliver on a promise of a former infrastructure minister, Chris Hazzard, who had vowed to end the practice of exploratory drilling taking place under permitted development rights.
Ms Mallon said the move was “an important step and I believe the right one for the environment”.
Other changes to planning rules announced by Ms Mallon will allow the following without planning permission:
- Upgrades on mobile phone masts and antennas.
- Shopkeepers extending property and loading bays.
- Recharging infrastructure for electric vehicles.
Mrs Mallon said that she hoped the proposals would encourage growth in the electric vehicle market and allow better coverage for mobile phones and broadband.
The proposals will be brought to the infrastructure committee in the coming weeks for scrutiny.
Boris Johnson will today pledge that every home in the country will be powered by offshore wind within 10 years, as he commits to a green industrial revolution that will create hundreds of thousands of jobs.
A noble cause indeed. But not one the PM has always been an advocate of. In fact, he’s positively ridiculed wind power on a number of occasions.
Speaking to the Conservative conference, Johnson will say: “I remember how some people used to sneer at wind power, 20 years ago, and say that it wouldn’t pull the skin off a rice pudding.”
And it’s no surprise he can remember it, because it was him saying it. In 2013 while Mayor of London, he said: “Labour put in a load of wind farms that failed to pull the skin off a rice pudding.”
“We now have the opportunity to get shale gas – let’s look at it. It is part of the 2020 vision we have for this city – power generation is vital.”
Johnson also dismissed a call to divest £4.8bn pension fund from oil, coal and gas saying UK needs fracking to avoid relying on energy imports.
Shale gas has since failed to take off but Johnson never failed to grasp an opportunity to knock renewable energy.
Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson holds an electric vehicle charging cable during a visit to the headquarters of Octopus Energy in London.
Later in 2013, he wrote a column for The Sun on Sunday titled “Turbines won’t do job.. let’s go nuclear, in which he described wind farms as a “disease” that have blighted Britain’s countryside and the UK should instead, you guessed it, embrace fracking.
“It is a good 20 years since I last drove all the way to Scotland and in the interim something unbelievable has been done — in our name — to our green, pleasant and precious countryside. I mean the windmills, the turbines… whatever they are called,” he wrote.
“I mean the things that look like some hideous Venusian invasion, marching over the moors and destroying the dales. The colossal seaside toys plonked erratically across our ancient landscape.“
But today all that will be forgotten as he embraces renewables.
The PM will say the coronavirus crisis should be used as a catalyst to make the UK world leader in clean power generation.
The wind power plan will see £160m made available to upgrade ports and infrastructure across areas like Teesside and Humber in northern England, Scotland and Wales as the next generation of turbines are built.
Downing Street said the investment programme “will see around 2,000 construction jobs rapidly created and will enable the sector to support up to 60,000 jobs directly and indirectly by 2030 in ports, factories and the supply chains, manufacturing the next-generation of offshore wind turbines and delivering clean energy to the UK”.
COUNTY councillors have made it clear they do not want to see fracking ever take place in Herefordshire.
Professional consultant Kirsten Berry told this week’s general scrutiny committee meeting that there had been important changes to the plan.
“One of the key changes is in relation to unconventional hydrocarbons, fracking as it is commonly known,” she said.
“When we prepared the draft plan, national policy was very much recognising the benefits of using fracking and onshore oil and gas for transition to low carbon. “But ministerial written statement last year that intention has been removed. “I’m aware of the resolutions in Herefordshire that are against fracking and recognising from the evidence we have it looks very unlikely that you would actually experience an application for working on unconventional hydrocarbons in Herefordshire.
“So, in recognising the update in the national position we’ve taken that policy out altogether.
Councillor William Wilding said he thought a policy which said the county would never have fracking would be positive.
“We should have a policy which absolutely says no to fracking.”
However, officers told the meeting a policy specifically banning fracking could make their plan legally unsound.
Two Conservative MPs who opposed fracking in their constituencies have won their campaigns, the energy minister, Kwasi Kwarteng, told parliament tonight. He said the government has sent a “clear message” to the industry that fracking was “extremely unlikely” to happen in England.
A Yorkshire MP has called for preparatory work for fracking in his constituency to be stopped after the Government put in place a moratorium on the practice last year.
The Government ended its support for fracking – a drilling technique used for extracting oil or natural gas from deep underground – in November after new scientific analysis showed it was not possible to rule out earthquakes were caused by the activity. But Rother Valley Tory MP Alexander Stafford said that despite the ban on fracking itself, the preparatory and exploratory work surrounding the sites in his area – in Woodsetts and Harthill – had continued.
Mr Stafford said: “If fracking is banned – and it is essentially a ban – we want to make sure residents are not adversely affected [by exploration work].”
Speaking last year, then Business and Energy Secretary Andrea Leadsom said:” Whilst acknowledging the huge potential of UK shale gas to provide a bridge to a zero carbon future, I’ve also always been clear that shale gas exploration must be carried out safely. In the UK, we have been led by the best available scientific evidence, and closely regulated by the Oil and Gas Authority, one of the best regulators in the world.
“After reviewing the OGA’s report into recent seismic activity at Preston New Road, it is clear that we cannot rule out future unacceptable impacts on the local community.
“For this reason, I have concluded that we should put a moratorium on fracking in England with immediate effect.”
Mr Stafford said it was up to the council to approve traffic management plans, but that this was now a futile point. And in a debate secured in Parliament tonight, he will attempt to gain more detail.
“I hope to put forward our case that fracking should not be taking place in our beautiful Rother Valley community, and that we must protect the ancient villages of Woodsetts and Harthill.”
THE COUNCIL has suspended its draft local development consultation, with immediate effect, after it emerged a section intended to strongly oppose local fracking had been changed without councillors’ knowledge or consent.
Enquiries are currently underway as to how the careful wording that had previously been agreed unanimously by the elected representatives was changed in the strategy document, which had been out for public consultation.
When politicians retire, they often joke that they are leaving the House of Commons to “concentrate on politics.” It’s because they know that MPs only operate within the bounds of what public opinion will allow. It is movements outside Westminster that change public opinion.