Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Exploratory Drilling at Borras Head Farm, Borras, Wrecsam.

It's taken me a few days to get a good understanding of what exactly the Fracking Moratorium statement made jointly by Carl Sargeant and Owen Smith on the eve of the Welsh Labour Party conference really means but it looks very much what it says on the tin...The Town and Country Planning (Notification)(Unconventional Oil and Gas) (Wales) Direction 2015, actually instructs Local Planning Authorities to refer ALL planning applications for Unconventional Gas drilling to Welsh Ministers but only if they are inclined to pass the application and this is where the first anomaly comes in. The Direction makes no reference at all to the Planning Inspectorate which after all is constitutionally an agency of the Westminster Government. In the event therefore that the LPA are inclined to refuse an application there is no requirement to refer the application to the Minister but will the applicant still be able to appeal against refusal to the Planning Inspectorate and will the Direction apply to them because it is not implied in the Direction that it does.

It is striking how far the Welsh Government have moved on this issue since July 2014, when Carl Sargeant issued this uncompromising 'clarification letter' stating in conclusion that:
The guidance provided in MPPW, (Mineral Planning Policy Wales) in conjunction with this clarification letter, should be taken into account by local planning authorities in Wales when making decisions on applications for unconventional oil and gas proposals. 

There is no doubt that the sustained lobbying of the Welsh Government by many groups and individuals has had a significant effect on Ministers which was then helped along by Plaid Cymru's motion the week before this announcement and support from the government's own members for such motion. This was in striking contrast to the Labour abstentions in the moratorium amendment on the Infrastructure Bill.

The question now is, what will be the response of the industry to this 'moratorium'? UKOOG, the industry trade body were quick enough to issue a Press Release after the Scottish moratorium decision but have yet to comment on the Welsh decision; is this a good or bad sign, only time will tell.

Personally, I have some nagging doubts about how this will pan out; now from this direction it seems the Welsh Government have the planning side all covered but there is of course another angle and that is the Energy sector.

The Energy Sector in Wales is not devolved, so does that mean that Westminster or Cardiff takes precedence here or will UKOOG appeal this to the Supreme Court? It seems a possible scenario.

One will have also noted that the Direction does not say whether it applies to 'Onshore' or 'Offshore' exploration. This anomaly has already been identified by the Scottish Government in that they don't have the power to regulate offshore which could include UCG (Underground Coal Gasification). This could be a significant problem in North East Wales as Cluff Energy seeks licences for UCG for the Dee Estuary between Deeside and West Kirkby on the Wirral (which incidentally covers the wildlife and bird sanctuary on Hilbre Island). This undoubtedly will remain with the UK Government as offshore is the Crown Estates but is yet another anomaly.

For us in Wrecsam the next decision is in IGas's lap, do they proceed with their exploratory drilling at Borras Head, knowing full well that their application for extraction of gas/oil (at this moment in time) will not be allowed or do they just pull the plug on the whole project (or is that just wishful thinking on my part?)

Whatever happens, we need to continue to be alert, this is not the time to be complacent.


Anonymous said...

One thing is sure, the people of Wales will continue to fight this disgusting and dangerous industry. It has no place in a modern society and belongs in the 18th Century,

Anonymous said...

Excellent post from Arfon - the devil is certainly in the detail and I doubt Carl Sargeant has delved too deeply in that regard.
The grassroots pressure on Labour in Wales has certainly had an effect. No doubt they want to be able to go into the May election with a clear defining line between them and the Tories and this is a handy one to use - especially as they believe it will negate the challenge from Plaid in some constituencies with fracking opposition.
The fact that energy projects over 50MW are still controlled by the UK Govt rather than Welsh Govt could mean that Sargeant's views are irrelevant. Devolving full control over energy - as in Scotland - is the only way ahead to prevent fracking in Wales.