Friday, 28 November 2014

Welsh Government must get off the fence over fracking

It’s time for the Welsh Government to get off the fence over fracking, according to Plaid Cymru.

The Party of Wales has accused Welsh Government Ministers representing areas affected by hydraulic fracturing (fracking) of “silent complicity” with the gas-drilling firms looking to exploit shale gas and coal bed methane in Flintshire and Wrecsam. Licences for exploratory drilling for gas cover two-thirds of the Welsh population.

Plaid Cymru’s shadow energy spokesperson and North Wales AM Llyr Gruffydd said:
“Earlier this year, I called for a moratorium on fracking because of the dangers drilling for unconventional gas poses to Welsh communities, the environment and our water. I invited the First Minister to show a lead on this but he and his fellow ministers – many of whom represent constituencies that are being targeted by the fracking firms – have failed to come off the fence on this matter. 
"Staying silent on such an issue is complicity with the fracking firms and shows a contempt for those communities directly affected by this new development.
“The decision of the local planning authority against granting permission to test drill for coal bed methane was made after extensive discussion. That decision was overturned by the Planning Inspectorate. “If the Welsh Government won’t stand up for communities under threat from fracking, even in their own backyards, then Plaid Cymru – both locally and nationally – will continue to do our utmost to reject unconventional gas drilling in Wales.  
"There is growing proof from the USA, where fracking originated, that wells leak, that water courses are being polluted by the toxic chemicals used and that these are causing health problems for both humans and animals. In Texas, the home of many of these drilling firms, towns are now voting to ban fracking due to the risks.
“It’s time for the Welsh Government to get off the fence on fracking before it’s too late”.
Local Plaid Cymru councillor Arfon Jones, who represents Gwersyllt West, has tabled a motion to Wrecsam Council calling to make the county a “frack-free area”.

• These Welsh Government ministers all represent constituencies where PEDL licences have been granted for unconventional gas exploration. The first three represent constituencies in Flintshire and Wrecsam:

Minister for Natural Resources & AM for Alyn and Deeside
Carl Sargeant:
Minister for Communities & Tackling Poverty
Lesley Griffiths:
Deputy Minister for Culture Sport & Tourism
Ken Skates:
Minister for Economy, Science and Transport
Edwina Hart:
Minister for Education and Skills
Huw Lewis:
Minister for Finance & Government Business
Jane Hutt:
Minister for Public Services
Leighton Andrews:
Minister for Health and Social Services 
Deputy Minister for Skills and Technology
Julie James:

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Fracking camp gears up for court battle

On Monday, two bailiffs attempted to serve a court summons on "persons unknown" at the Borras and Holt Protection Camp. This consisted of throwing a bit of paper into the mud. The paper gave details of a court hearing in Manchester.
 This is the response of Plaid Cymru councillor Arfon Jones to the news:
Subject: Case No - 830MA971 

Dear Sir/Madam, 
Yesterday bailiffs tried to serve an eviction notice on unnamed camp protectors at Borras, Wrexham. Protectors have set up a camp to protest against exploratory testing for CBM at this location. The protectors believe that the company will exceed their authority granted in the planning application and ignore the conditions thus posing an unacceptable risk to the public and the environment.
The Protectors therefore wish to oppose the issuance of an eviction notice and feel that the case listed for Thursday 20th November, does not allow them sufficient time from unlawful service of the notice to the hearing for them to present a defence (3 days).
Protectors and their supporters will also wish the hearing to be heard in Welsh as is our right and the claim is within the jurisdiction of the High Court Chancery Division in Wales.
I very much hope the Presiding Officer will accept the Protectors request for an adjournment as it's only right that both sides has access to justice.

Yours sincerely,
Councillor Arfon Jones
Wrexham County Borough Council.

Legal advice is also being sought and the camp is digging in preparation for any action to evict.
If nothing is heard from the court, we have to assume the eviction notice will proceed at 10.30am at Manchester Civil Justice Centre, 1 Bridge Street West, Manchester M60 9DJ

For the latest information go to the Facebook page or Twitter account.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Dafydd Wigley's speech in the House of Lords debate on the Infrastructure Bill and Fracking 10/11/14

Lord Wigley: My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 115B, 115C and 123, which also stand in my name and are grouped with Amendment 114. First of all, could I say a word about the whole issue of fracking? Noble Lords will be aware that when this Bill was given its Second Reading there was no reference to the provision it now makes in relation to fracking. When we first started in Committee, there was no sign of the amendments we knew were being prepared. Ostensibly, we had to wait until the conclusion of the consultation process in August, before amendments were formulated. But since little notice seems to have been taken of the overwhelming opposition to fracking expressed by the general public, this seems to have been little short of a charade. It is not good enough to take an arrogant and disparaging attitude to those who harbour genuine fears.
Now that we have the amendments in the Bill and the provision for fracking is likely to be confirmed as part of it as we move forward from Report, unless we challenge it rigorously tonight, then the fears that people have will be underlined and reinforced. That is why I have tabled my amendments. But before I address the detailed wording, I will make it clear why I unreservedly oppose the application of fracking technology to extract underground gas. I have grave reservations about this technology. I do not express these doubts and concerns on the basis of a nimby approach. There are no identified areas of potential fracking activities in my home county of Gwynedd, nor do I harbour doubts about any form of modern applied technology.
My university degree, many years ago, was in physics, and I rejoice in the progress of science in making life so much better for millions around the world. But science needs to be applied with a degree of the precautionary principle. We all remember the tragedies of thalidomide, the dangers of radiation exposure, and the potential disaster which was associated with CFCs in the atmosphere. It is just as stupid to blindly accept the application of science as it is to blindly apply a knee-jerk reaction against the wonders of modern science, and what it can bring us. We need a balanced approach, and that means asking awkward questions and challenging glib assumptions. That is what I want to do in regard to our apparent acceptance of fracking technology.
The dangers associated with fracking can be summarised under five headings: first, direct dangers to human health and to animal and plant life arising from the chemicals used in the fracking process and the likelihood of them entering our water supply systems; secondly, the possibility of fracking technology triggering seismic tremors, as we have heard about in earlier debates tonight, and in the extreme, earthquakes, as apparently happened not so far from Blackpool in 2011; thirdly, the implications, by building a cheap gas economy, of worsening our carbon footprint at the very time when we should be putting every priority into reducing our fossil fuel usage and investing in reducing demand for fuels by insulation and fuel efficiency programmes, and re-orientating our energy systems into using renewable low-carbon technologies; fourthly, the highly questionable principle of giving developers carte blanche to enter people’s property or dig under their land under a blanket assumed permission to do so, undermining the checks and balances which have been carefully crafted into our town and country planning systems; and fifthly, the environmental squalor which fracking has left in its wake in so many of those communities in North America which have been blighted as a result of the fracking invasion of their countryside, and now this Bill will allow fracking companies to walk away from their clapped-out equipment, which they leave under the ground after them.
We are told of the economic benefits which will flood into these areas as a result of fracking, but all experience shows this to be a total nonsense. Only a handful of jobs are created, and they usually go to migrant workers who move from location to location as the fracked-out wells are exhausted, leaving behind them the industrial squalor so often associated with the extractive industries. We are told that there will be immense wealth from exploiting these untapped reserves of gas. But that wealth does not go to the communities which have suffered the ravages of exploitation; it goes to the supranational corporations, which are only too ready to respond to the Government’s inducements. Of course, the money will go into the Treasury to bail out a near-bankrupt economy, with the danger of being squandered in the same way as has happened to the UK’s North Sea oil reserves. Local families, local communities and local environment pay the price, and distant pockets bulge with the proceeds.
All these are matters of concern to me. But let me concentrate, in the limited time we have available on Report, on the dangers of chemicals contaminating the water systems of those areas where fracking takes place. In Wales, we provide water not only for our own communities, but for many English conurbations: in north-west England, in the Midlands, and in probably increasing quantities to southern England. The purity and safety of those water supplies have been taken for granted. Let me mention just some of the chemicals used in the fracking process. Each fracking “job” requires between a million and 8 million gallons of water, and each such job uses 40,000 gallons of chemicals, involving as many as 600 different chemicals, including carcinogens and toxins such as lead, uranium, mercury, ethylene glycol, radium, methanol, hydrochloric acid and formaldehyde.
In the United States, there have been over 1,000 cases of contaminated drinking water in locations next to areas of gas drilling, and these have led to cases of sensory, respiratory and neurological damage which have been attributed to ingesting contaminated water. Less than 50% of the fracturing fluid is recovered; the remainder of the toxic fluid is left in the ground. Overwhelmingly, it is not biodegradable.
In the United States, waste fluid is often left in open-air pits to evaporate, releasing harmful, volatile organic compounds into the atmosphere, creating contaminated air, acid rain and ground-level ozone. A whole plethora of legal cases have arisen in the United States. In April, the Parr family in Texas were awarded
$3 million damages against the Aruba fracking company for the pollution of air, water and soil which had seriously impacted on the family’s health. The following month, in May, there was a rig blow-out in Morgan County, Ohio, with a spillage of 184 barrels of toxic fracking fluid, which apparently reached the nearby waterway. In Pennsylvania in June, a fracking company was fined almost $200,000 for a toxic hydraulic fracking fluid spill of over 200,000 gallons into the local environment that led to the evacuation of local families from their homes. In Texas in August, it was reported that in a survey of 100 water wells up to three kilometres away from the fracking locations, over 30% had arsenic levels above the safety limit. A survey by Dale University said that water sources—again in Pennsylvania—showed an elevated level of methane in locations a kilometre or more distant from drilled areas. In some instances, the methane concentration was so high as to be explosive.
Britain is much more densely populated than the United States, with consequently higher likelihood of water sources used for human or animal consumption being polluted. Given this sort of experience, it is of little surprise that states such as Vermont have banned fracking since 2012. They did so, in the words of the state governor, Peter Shumlin, in order for Vermont to,“preserve its clean water, its lakes, its rivers and its quality of life”.
I was told graphically when in America in August by Eluned Jones, Professor of Economics at South Dakota State University, that the economic benefit gained in her state by fracking had been attained at an environmental and social price that was a profound disaster. Other parts of America are waking to the dangers of fracking. Only last Tuesday, as we heard earlier, the city of Denton in Texas—in the heart of fracking country—voted in a referendum to ban any new fracking operations. Civilised European countries that put the safety of life and the environment above commercial profiteering have banned fracking. France has done so since 2011. Both Germany and the Netherlands have placed a moratorium on it. That is what my party, Plaid Cymru, has also called for.
In these amendments I urge the House to take a first step towards a moratorium throughout Britain by refusing to carry forward Clauses 32 and 33. They were inserted in a blind moment in Committee and I urge the whole House to reject them emphatically. If, for whatever reason, I cannot carry the House with me—as I suspect may be the case having heard earlier debates—then I implore the House to at the very least agree Amendment 114. That would allow this clause to be applied in Wales only if it was so approved by the National Assembly, and allows the National Assembly to impose whatever conditions it deems fit on any fracking development. My hope would be that, irrespective of what happens in England, it would say no to fracking in Wales.
However, there are cross-border issues relating to fracking. My parliamentary colleague, Hywel Williams, MP for Arfon, was told in a Written Answer that fracking developments in north-west England may well look to Wales for the enormous supplies of water they will need for those purposes. As noble Lords will be aware, water is an incendiary substance in Wales.
Any suggestion of the drowning of further valleys in Wales to provide water for fracking in England—no doubt without any compensatory payment—will generate a howl of outrage the length and breadth of my nation. Water is to Wales what oil is to Scotland, so let there be no misunderstanding whatever that the exploitation of water resources in Wales, without the sanction of the National Assembly or adequate payment, is a non-starter and will be fought every step of the way. I cannot make it clearer than that.
In many ways, it would be totally perverse not to devolve to the National Assembly responsibility for allowing, banning or putting conditions on fracking in Wales. The Assembly has responsibility for virtually all aspects of town and country planning in Wales, it has total responsibility for the environment and agriculture, and it has responsibility for the healthcare services in Wales. All these are policy portfolios impacted by the effects of fracking. If Wales is to have coherent public policy, then control of fracking must also be devolved. Indeed, the Government have tacitly admitted this in their response to the House of Commons Welsh Affairs Committee’s report on energy generation in Wales. The committee recommended that the UK and Welsh Governments should co-operate on regulatory and planning matters, including the “environmental risks” associated with hydraulic fracking. The Government’s response was that planning was a devolved matter. That being so, surely the Government must accept the thrust of my amendment.
Incidentally, I would be grateful to the Minister if we could have some clarification as to whether these draconian provisions will apply to Scotland directly, or whether the Scottish Parliament has some control over their applicability. I suspect that if you were to tell Mr Salmond that Scotland will have to allow fracking willy-nilly and by Westminster diktat, there would be such an eruption north of Hadrian’s Wall as to re-open the whole relationship between this place and Holyrood. Yet if Westminster were to allow a Scottish veto over fracking, then on what earthly basis is such a provision to be denied Wales?
My preferred outcome of this debate would be for the Government to withdraw or the House to vote these appalling clauses out of the Bill. In the event of failure to do this, I implore the Government to either accept my Amendment 114 to allow the National Assembly to determine these matters in Wales or undertake to bring forward their own clause in another place for the same purpose. Whichever way they proceed, this issue will not go away. I beg to move.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Milk not Methane... Part 2.

This is a great article in the Daily Post Wales today, very balanced reporting except that the pro Fracking comments are totally misleading:
Supporters of underground drilling for gas in the UK claim it will be far more rigorously regulated than in other countries.
I couldn't let this go without comment, so the following is a letter which I wrote to the Daily Post in response :

Dear Editor, 
Supporters of 'Fracking' claim that the process is more rigorously regulated (here) than in other countries "Protestors Against Underground Drilling... (Post, Nov 7th). That claim is absolute rubbish and patently untrue. 
Planning law is devolved to the Welsh Government, and the Wales Minerals Policy is apparently the policy for 'fracking'. However it makes no mention of 'unconventional gas' or 'fracking' hence the presumption is that the Welsh Government has NO policy on this dangerous industry. 
 Likewise, Natural Resources Wales monitor compliance of Planning conditions and are supposed to enforce those conditions to protect the environment a search of the NRW website will reveal no results for a search for 'unconventional gas' or 'fracking'. The NRW is just another inept regulatory authority like the Environment Agency who roll over and allow these corporate gas and oil companies to do what they want with no monitoring and destroy the environment and its oldest industry, agriculture. 
The Welsh Government need to wake up and realise that drilling for unconventional gas is the 'elephant in the room' and they need to up their game and get a grip of their responsibilities, something that Ministers have abdicated up to now. 
What we want is Milk not Methane. 
Councillor Arfon Jones.  

Thursday, 6 November 2014

An inconvenient truth – Labour closed Plas Madoc

Politicians like to re-write history when it suits them, usually some years after the event.

Ken Skates, the Labour AM for Clwyd South, has decided to re-write some very recent history by claiming that “Potentially, Plas Madoc would never have closed had its future been examined in the context of Flintshire and Wrexham councils merging.”

The Labour Party’s sudden interest in merging Wrecsam and Flintshire councils – now supported by three Labour ministers in Cardiff -  emerged after Labour lost control of Wrecsam Council over the summer. There is clearly a feeling that the merger between Labour-led Flintshire and Independent-led Wrecsam would lead to a larger Labour-led authority.

To try to speed this merger up, politicians like Ken Skates are having to deploy all manner of arguments but the headline grabber appears to be that Plas Madoc Leisure Centre would have been saved if the merger was supported.

There is an inconvenient truth in all this spinning – back in November 2013 it was a Labour-run council that proposed closing Plas Madoc. In December 2013 it was a Labour-dominated executive board that voted to close Plas Madoc and in February 2014 it was Labour  councillors that voted against an Independent group motion to keep Plas Madoc open for another year.

 The Labour group subsequently split and the council is now run by Independents. It’s only now that anyone has had the cheek to claim that merging the councils would have saved Plas Madoc. The truth is that a Labour council failed to listen to the people, failed to respond imaginatively to other options and paid the price. Plas Madoc is in danger of being used by the same party to try to save its political skin.

A notorious propagandist once said “If you’re going to tell a lie, tell a big one”. Ken’s just told a whopper.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

IGas Energy and Barton Moss.

IGas Energy the gas exploration company have today released a statement to the London Stock Exchange regarding the results of its exploratory test well at Barton Moss:
IGas one of the leading producers of onshore hydrocarbons in the UK, is pleased to announce results of its exploration well at Barton Moss and, following the acquisition of Dart Energy,  revised  shale GIIP estimates for the enlarged group.
The Barton Moss well was drilled as an exploration well in PEDL 193 in the North West of England, with the original key objectives of fulfilling the 13th Licence Round commitment obligation, assessing the CBM potential of the area and delineating the deeper Dinantian limestone horizon to better calibrate the pre-existing seismic interpretation which has confirmed our interpretation of the basin and so informed our 14th onshore licensing application accordingly.
The well, which was completed in March 2014, was successful in achieving all of these objectives and the results have helped refine our geological models and are consistent with our overall basin depositional model.  The well encountered 15 gas bearing coal seams in accordance with the pre-drill prognosis.  The well also encountered a Namurian Shale section, consisting of the Sabden Shale and the Upper and Lower Bowland Shales.  Approximately 400 feet of core was recovered, including from the shale section.
Commenting on this release, CEO Andrew Austin said "The results of the well are encouraging in respect of the shale potential of the area as they have helped further refine the existing basin models and verify the earlier preliminary prognosis.  The results were employed in our 14th licence round applications. I am also pleased to announce the revised GIIP numbers where more data has narrowed the range and increased the overall potential which, coupled with our funded work programme of $80 million, gives us the ability to demonstrate the commerciality of gas extraction from these prospective areas.
Specifically, our work in the northwest continues with seismic acquisition, site selection and the up-coming well at Ellesmere Port."
They may say they're going for the Coal Bed Methane but it is now clear from Andrew Austin's comments about the shale potential that it is the shale gas and not the CBM and that means 'fracking'. The basis on which the Planning Inspectorate upheld GP Energy's appeal therefore seems to be wrong when he states, "the drilling process is a well established, conventional methodology." Is drilling into the shale 'well established'? I think not.

IGas's statement to the LSE has 'muddied the waters' even further and the Borras application should now be open to further challenge. I await my appointment with Planning Officers with interest.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Plaid Wrecsam backs £7.85 Living Wage for all workers

Plaid Cymru in Wrecsam has backed calls for a Living Wage, which would ensure a pay rise for 250,000 workers in Wales - a quarter of the Welsh workforce.

Councillor Carrie Harper, Plaid Cymru's Parliamentary candidate for Wrecsam, said:
"Figures recently released showed half the children in the Queensway ward in Wrecsam were living in poverty - among the worst in Wales. Most of the recent increases in Housing Benefit claimants are families who are in work - it's the working poor that are being hammered as much as anyone.
"This is completely unacceptable. People who are working should be paid enough to live on and have time to enjoy family life. The Living Wage should be the minimum wage and, if the minimum wage had been linked to inflation, it would now be far higher than it is now. "We should all aspire to a Fair Day's pay for a hard day's work."

Plaid Cymru's Gwersyllt West Councillor, Arfon Jones, has helped create a working group to look at implementing a Living Wage for 1,300 Wrexham Council employees who earn less than the Living Wage, currently £7.85 an hour.

Cllr Jones said:
"When Plaid Cymru councillors were first elected to Wrexham Council in 2008, we called for a Living Wage. This had the support of Unison and TCC, Together Creating Communities. 
"As a result of this pressure, the council agreed to delete the two lowest pay scales which was a step in the right direction but there has been no further progress since then.

"Introducing the Living Wage is a win-win situation not only for the individuals concerned but also for the local economy. An increase in people's disposable income would boost local spending whilst at the same time saving money on welfare like Housing Benefit and Working Tax Credits as families are lifted above the thresholds.

"Despite what well-paid senior council officers say, the truth is that in the long term the cost of implementing the Living Wage for staff in Wrexham Council will be cost neutral as well as bringing many other benefits."

This week is Living Wage week and the exact weekly sum estimated as a minimum to live on has risen from £7.65 an hour to £7.85 an hour.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Living Wage Week

Plaid Cymru Wrecsam are "Proud to support #LivingWageWeek. Employers who can, should pay the Living Wage. Are you #LivingWage?

Mae Plaid Cymru Wrecsam yn falch o gefnogi wythnos Cyflog Byw.

Ymunwch a'r Thunderclap a rhannwch ar Facebook a Twitter.