Everything you need to know about last night’s fracking vote
We look at what fracking is, why it’s controversial and how our local MPs voted on the issue
By Natalie Bloomer
In what was seen as a clever political move, the Labour Party yesterday used its opposition day debate to put forward a motion that could have led to a ban on fracking. The party knew that if Conservative MPs rebelled against the government and voted for the motion it would place more pressure on prime minister Liz Truss, but if they voted against it some would be going against their own personal views and that of many concerned constituents.
The deputy chief whip wrote to Tory MPs yesterday morning to warn that the vote was being treated as a confidence motion in the government and that a strict three line whip would be enforced meaning they were expected to vote against the motion or face consequences. This was later contradicted by the climate minister Graham Stuart.
The motion was defeated meaning fracking could soon restart in England but if Labour was hoping to cause trouble for the under-pressure government, it succeeded. Within minutes of the vote being held, Westminster journalists were reporting that both the chief whip and deputy chief whip had resigned although at the time of going to press it was unclear if that was correct.
Putting the drama to one side, today we look at what fracking is, why it’s controversial and how our local MPs have voted on the issue.
What is Fracking?
Fracking involves drilling into the earth to extract gas and oil from shale rock. The rock is fractured by a mixture of sand, water and chemicals being injected at high pressure causing the release of the gas. These wells can be two to three kilometres deep.
The practice is widely used in the US but some experts say the geology of the UK is not suitable for shale oil and gas production.
In 2019 the government banned fracking in England following concerns over earthquakes close to the Preston New Road site near Blackpool. Last month Liz Truss said the ban would be lifted.
Why is it controversial?
Concerns are often centred around the risk of earth tremors caused by the practice. The 2019 report which led to the ban said it was not possible to predict the probability or magnitude of earthquakes linked to fracking.
At the time the government said:
“Exploratory work to determine whether shale could be a new domestic energy source, delivering benefits for our economy and energy security, has now been paused - unless and until further evidence is provided that it can be carried out safely here.
“Ministers have always been clear that the exploration of England’s shale gas reserves could only proceed if the science shows that it is safe, sustainable and of minimal disturbance to those living and working nearby…On the basis of the disturbance caused to residents living near Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site in Lancashire and this latest scientific analysis, the government has announced a moratorium on fracking until compelling new evidence is provided”
There are also environmental concerns. Greenpeace says:
“Fracked fuels can be even more damaging to the climate than regular oil and gas. The process of extracting these fuels risks causing pollution, harming public health and it wouldn’t even bring energy bills down”
Supporters of fracking argue that it would lead to a reduction in coal production, would help ease the current energy crisis and create jobs.
Last night’s debate
Labour’s shadow secretary of state of climate change Ed Miliband told the Commons that fracking wouldn’t make energy cheaper, isn’t an appropriate response to the climate crisis and that people didn’t want it.
“We’ve called this debate to allow the right, this house should have, to make the decision on whether fracking should be allowed to restart across the country…The government is seeking to break its manifesto promise without even getting the consent of this House,” Miliband said.
In response business secretary Jacob Rees Mogg argued that more exploratory sites were needed so that more analysis could be done on the impact of fracking. He said that the practice was an important part of ensuring energy security in the country but local consent would be needed before it would be allowed - although he didn’t make clear how this would be sought.
“I do understand the concerns people have…the government is determined to build our energy security at a time when energy costs are a worry for many,” he said.
In 2015 there was a debate in the Commons on allowing fracking under Britain’s national parks, something all of the county’s Conservative MPs at the time voted for.
Later in 2019 the MP for South Northamptonshire Andrea Leadsom who was business secretary at the time said:
“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.”
36 Conservative MPs abstained last night but this didn’t include any of Northamptonshire’s seven MPs who all voted against Labour’s motion to ban fracking.