The Scottish National Party (SNP) has pointed out that an objection from a single peer in the House of Lords could have stymied the government amendment removing the right of property owners to object to drilling under their land. The SNP does not sit in the Lords on principle.
According to the standing orders of the House of Lords Grand Committee, a single voice against an amendment results in its rejection. But when the committee considered the fracking proposal on 14 October it went through without objection.
If it becomes law, the proposal would let companies prospecting for underground gas or oil to drill 300 metres or more below properties across the UK without requiring the owners’ permission. The Grangemouth multinational, Ineos, announced last week that it was investing up to £640 million in fracking for shale gas, and has a licence to explore 742 square miles of central Scotland.
Fracking is a way of fracturing rocks deep underground by injecting high-pressure liquids into them so that trapped shale gas can escape. There are also highly controversial plans to exploit other forms of underground gas, including coalbed methane in Falkirk and coal gasification under the Firth of Forth.
The SNP’s Westminster energy spokesperson, Mike Weir MP, accused the coalition government of being keen to allow fracking without consent. “No Lords from the unionist parties – Tory, Labour or Liberal – voted against these measures, all just nodded them through,” he said.
“Had any of them been serious about opposing fracking they could have opposed them at this stage, but they choose not to do so. The changes in the bill cut across Scottish land law, which is a devolved matter, and the UK government should not be taking such action without even bothering to consult the Scottish Parliament.”
Weir promised that the SNP would oppose the fracking consent amendment when it came back to the House of Commons. “The SNP has taken a cautious, considered and evidence-based approach to fracking and unconventional oil and gas,” he said.
Although the SNP has taken a more cautious approach to fracking than Westminster, it has not ruled it out. And it has sometimes sounded supportive of other forms of underground gas development.
Labour’s shadow energy minister and Scottish MP, Tom Greatrex, pointed out that the SNP voted against a proposed shale gas moratorium in the Scottish Parliament earlier this year. “Shale gas extraction can only happen in Scotland with the permission of the SNP government in Holyrood,” he said.
Greatrex has called for the devolution of mineral access rights for shale gas to Scotland. “It makes sense for mineral access rights, which are in effect a part of the planning policy, to be devolved to Holyrood to complement existing powers,” he argued.
Labour also contended that if a single peer had objected at the House of Lords Grand Committee, the matter would have simply been deferred to a later stage and then given the go ahead by combined Conservative and Liberal Democrat votes.
The Green Party’s sole peer, Jenny Jones, Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb, accepted that she could have halted the fracking amendment if she had been at the committee meeting. It was a tactic she would consider next time, she told The National.
The fracking debate had been “very dispiriting”, she said. “Both Tories and Labour are keen for it go ahead, convinced by spurious claims of lower energy prices and not deterred by the severe environmental cost,” she said. “Both parties may find that will cost them dear in the general election.”
Dr Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, pointed out that Scottish Labour’s position on fracking was better than the party in London. “The UK Labour Party needs to listen to the massive dissatisfaction around the country and come off the fence,” he said. “Labour should be using any trick in the Westminster book to stop these terrible fracking proposals.”