Hydraulic Fracturing Gas Drilling
After we asked for your views on the fracking issue, over the last few weeks, we have been contacted by residents who say they are concerned about possible fracking in and around our town.
They have genuine concerns and are worried about the effect it could have on our local environment and water supply.
We listened carefully to your concerns and spoke on your behalf at the Bury Council meeting last night where a resolution was being discussed to ban fracking on Council owned land.
We must make it clear that there are no immediate plans for fracking in this Borough.
What are the suggested benefits of fracking?
We know that the North Sea production of gas is declining and as we use less coal in the next 10-15 years, gas will help fill the gap alongside renewable and nuclear energy.
In the next 10 years, we expect to be importing close to 70% of the gas we consume.
Scientists have estimated that there is 1300 trillion cubic feet of shale gas here in northern England.
The Government tell us that if we access this shale gas, it will result in lower energy prices and the security and control over our own energy supplies.
Combined with the use of nuclear, it could provide us with our energy needs for years to come.
In addition, they say that those areas that agree to fracking should receive some of the financial benefit.
The Government has committed up to 10 per cent of shale gas tax revenues to a Shale Wealth Fund, which could deliver up to £1 billion of investment here in the North of England.
Councils will be able to keep 100 per cent of business rates collected from shale gas sites – worth up to £1.7 million a year for a typical site.
Furthermore, local communities would receive £100,000 when a test well is fracked – and a further 1 per cent of revenues if shale gas is discovered – worth £5 to £10 million for a typical site over its lifetime. Sums of money we cannot ignore.
The recent round of shale gas exploration licences includes Ramsbottom and the majority of Bury, although Hutton Energy say that there are no plans to explore these sites until an assessment is undertaken. They say that if shale gas is economic to extract in this area, they do not expect any exploratory wells to be considered for at least 2 to 3 years.
And, we have to remember that licences themselves do not give consent for drilling or any other operations.
The Government say that they have created an effective regulatory regime and that the UK has over 50 years of experience of regulating the oil and gas industry to prevent environmental contamination, mitigating against seismic activity and minimising emissions.
Before any shale operation can begin here in Bury, operators must pass rigorous health and safety, environmental and planning permission processes.
If, and it is a big ‘if’, a planning application is lodged for exploration, this Council’s planning committee will decide whether each stage of the process is acceptable but only after our local communities have had the opportunity to set out their views on the proposal.
In addition, operators also need environmental permits from the Environment Agency. If contamination is possible they will not permit exploration.
Back in 2012, the Royal Academy of Engineering reviewed the scientific and engineering evidence on shale gas.
The review concluded that “the health, safety and environmental risks associated with fracking’ as a means to extract shale gas can be managed effectively in the UK as long as operational best practices are implemented and enforced through regulation.”
That really is the crucial point – “the risks can only be managed so long as operational best practices are implemented”.
So, despite the economic benefits and safeguards put in place, it really comes down to whether we can be sure that it is safe and whether we can trust the regulators.
That was one of the reasons we spent so much time fighting the Anaerobic Digestion Waste Plant in Ramsbottom, as we feared the Environment Agency would be ineffective at regulating the site.
The view of your Conservative Councillors therefore, is that on balance, at this moment in time, the environmental risks to our communities in Bury and Ramsbottom outweigh the potential benefits and that is why we decided to vote for the ban on fracking on Council owned land.
As Conservative Councillors, we put forward a resolution on that basis. Unfortunately, the Labour Councillors present voted against that resolution, as they wanted the resolution to also say that Bury Council would encourage the production of wind energy in the Borough.
Scout Moor Wind Farm
Wind Power has been controversial in the north of this Borough. Many residents have opposed the expansion of the Scout Moor Wind Farm – and across Ramsbottom planning applications for wind turbines in the Green Belt have consistently been opposed.
So, as your Conservative Councillors, we simply cannot support any proposal that promotes wind turbines across the green belt of Ramsbottom.
Labour Councillors put forward their own resolution, but it is for that reason, that we were forced into the position of having to abstain from a vote on fracking as if we had supported it, due to the wording of the resolution, we would also have been supporting that the expansion of Wind Power in Ramsbottom.
It is disappointing that the Labour Party did not support our sensible resolution which sought a ban on fracking on Council land but reflected the views of residents across our town about refusing wind farms in the green belt.
The Conservative resolution (voted down by Labour Councillors) read as follows:
“This Council acknowledges the growing public concern that unconventional gas extraction entails significant risks to the environment and to the health and wellbeing of neighbouring communities. These include, but are not limited to, earth tremors, potential air pollution, pollution of water resources and increased industrialisation of the countryside. There appears to be insufficient regulation and scrutiny of current unconventional gas extraction operations in the UK and as a consequence these operations risk irreversibly polluting fragile water courses, established nature and tourism activities.
Council further recognises that fracking may have a detrimental effect on house prices, as well as building insurance within the vicinity of fracking wells.
It is the duty of the Council to protect the health and wellbeing of residents and the integrity of our natural environment and to play its part in supporting sustainable energy for future generations. Bury Council has already demonstrated a commitment to providing clean, green energy and in accordance with this commitment:
(i) Council will not allow any exploratory drilling, fracking or coal-bed extraction on land it owns or controls until all the aforementioned safety concerns have been satisfactorily addressed.
(ii) Whilst this Council is unable to introduce planning policies seeking a presumption against fracking because of national planning policy introduced by Central Government, the Council will nevertheless ensure in accordance with the law that there is a rigorous criteria for assessing planning applications for the exploration or extraction of gas, including the practice commonly known as fracking. Planning applications will be assessed against appropriate planning policies and relevant material planning considerations to ensure that any such application is considered in appropriate detail. Council will oppose strongly any attempt to weaken or override its powers as a planning authority when considering any applications for fracking.
(iii) Council agrees to consult with local communities on any planning applications related to fracking received for their area.
(iv) Council aims to take steps within its statutory powers to work to harness the abundant sustainable and renewable energy resources available locally such as river weirs.
Furthermore, in line with the Paris Agreement 2015, we welcome the Government’s continued tax incentives on ‘green’ cars and investment in renewables in a bid to reduce our carbon emissions. We also welcome the Government’s scrapping of clean energy subsidies for on-shore Wind Turbines and note that taxpayer funded subsidies should only be a short-term measure whilst long term reductions in renewable’s technology prices is a more effective business model.