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Pressure grows as Wales says no to fracking until ‘proven safe’

Wales says no to fracking

Courtesy of: Friends of the Earth, 2015

Shale gas extraction appears to be losing popularity in the UK, as public polls andas well as recent government decisions show.

Last Wednesday, the Welsh government backed a motion by Plaid Cymru – the National party of Wales – stating ‘that energy should be fully devolved to the National Assembly of Wales’.

This also included a measure to ‘prevent fracking from taking place in Wales until it is proven to be safe in both an environmental and public health context’.

Energy company iGas, whose initial application for test drilling near Wrexham was rejected by local councillors, have appealed against the decision, and do not regard the vote as a threat to their plans, as a spokesman told the Daily Post:

Nothing has changed in our plans to test drill for underground gas in Wrexham, which we will be continuing with. And if we were to put in a planning application in the future, which is rejected by Wrexham council, the appeal would go to the Welsh Secretary, which comes under Westminster, not the Welsh Government.

The decision by the Welsh Government was not a moratorium, they can refuse applications on planning grounds, but they have no power to stop fracking.

Edwina Hart, Minister for Economy in the Welsh Assembly who backed the anti-fracking motion, has so far turned down calls for planning advice to be updated on the issue.

But insiders have indicated that the First Minister, Carwyn Jones, is currently seeking legal advice on what powers the Welsh Government have on a fracking moratorium.

As opposed to the separate Planning Inspectorates in Scotland and Northern Ireland, there is a London-based Planning Inspectorate for England and Wales.

Scotland  had used the devolved powers for its recent decision on a temporary fracking ban.

Gareth Clubb, Director of Friends of the Earth Cymru, commented:

As soon as the legal advice is available, it needs to be published so that all the people of Wales can know where we stand on this problem.

If a moratorium is within the Welsh Government’s powers then it just needs to get on and make it happen. If a ban isn’t possible, two things need to happen straight away. The first is that any powers restricting Wales’ ability to protect its communities should be devolved immediately.

The second is that until those powers are devolved the Welsh Government must issue a Planning Policy Statement with a presumption against the development of unconventional oil and gas onshore in Wales.

An announcement from Welsh Secretary Stephen Crabb on further devolution is expected in the coming weeks.

A recent call for a ban in England, where 60% of the land were previously available for shale gas exploration, was rejected by MPs. However, ministers were forced to accept new regulations from the Labour party.

According to these, shale gas explorations in national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONBs), sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs) and groundwater source protection zones (SPZs) are not permitted.

A Guardian analysis calculates that 39.7% of shale gas areas in England are therefore protected.

However, final amendments to the infrastructure bill on Monday restricted these regulations, allowing energy companies to drill horizontally under protected areas.

This leaves the door open for fracking in groundwater SPZs and could mean around 25% of the area previously declared as protected may not be protected at all.

Friends of the Earth have launched an action calling on the public to email their MP and voice their protest against the decision.

 

Meanwhile, a decision on the planning application from energy firm Cuadrilla to frack in Little Plumpton and Roseacre Wood, near Blackpool, Lancashire has been postponed to 30 April after council planners recommended a rejection based on issues such as noise and traffic.

In the light of fracking bans in parts of the UK, Europe and the US, as well as public protests and poll results, campaigners argue that pressure on London is building for a possible UK-wide fracking moratorium.

According to the findings of a UK government study from last week, about 25% of the public support fracking, whereas half neither support or oppose it.

The same survey found that 68% support onshore wind, 74% support offshore wind, and 81% support solar power.

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