Isle of Wight councillor for Freshwater South, John Medland, will be putting forward a motion at tonight’s full council meeting on the subject of fracking.
Although OnTheWight will be reporting live from the meeting, we wouldn’t be able to type fast enough to capture John’s speech in full, so he’s kindly shared it prior to the meeting. In his words. Ed
On December 17th, 200 square kilometres of the Island were licensed by the government for oil and gas exploration and extraction. The licences have been awarded to a partnership of companies including Solo Oil plc. These licences are formally for conventional oil and gas extraction but there is a possibility that they can also be used for so called ‘unconventional’ extraction using hydraulic fracturing.
Hydraulic fracturing aka fracking
Hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as ‘fracking’ is defined by Investopedia as “the procedure of creating underground fractures in rocks and rock formations by injecting a mixture of sand and water into the cracks to force them to open further”.
That hydraulic fracturing is planned for the Island has been confirmed by Solo Oil in a press statement. This refers to ‘unconventional’, ‘tight’ and ‘shale’ deposits all terms associated with the technique of hydraulic fracturing. Solo said it would “look at conventional oil and unconventional shale plays… on the Isle of Wight”. They also mentioned the “high potential conventional and tight oil exploration upside”.
Hydraulic fracturing as a method of mineral energy extraction is acutely controversial. According to one study for the European Union “Risks of surface and ground water contamination, water resource depletion, air and noise emissions, land take, disturbance to biodiversity and impacts related to traffic are deemed to be high …”
According to the Parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee report in 2014 “Shale fracking… could pose significant localised environmental risks to public health.”
As we have learned before, as a planning authority we are unable to adopt a political position of opposition to fracking applications thanks to the principal of ‘predetermination’.
Predetermination on planning issues means that decision makers must not make up their minds on how to vote before formally considering an application. It is on this basis that this resolution requests that each application under the new licences be dealt with by our Planning Committee.
Cameron: “We’re going all out for shale”
If applications are refused and appealed they should go to the Planning Inspectorate. They should not be decided, as announced in August, by the Secretary of State. The government has clearly established a bias on the issue.
On 14th January 2014 the Prime Minister declared that “We’re going all out for shale. It is important for our country… I want us to get on board.”
Follow Lancashire’s lead
I feel we should support the resolution of Lancashire County Council passed on 17th December which states,
“We believe that the determination of individual planning applications should remain with the County Council as it is best able to consider local planning issues.
“The Secretary of State is a member of a cabinet with a clear policy in favour of Fracking and he has made statements in favour of Fracking. It is therefore inappropriate for him to determine the planning appeals.”
The lengthy planning considerations
The Isle of Wight Council Planning Committee and our other regulatory authorities need sufficient time for each application to take into account the impact of mineral fuel extraction on all the aspects listed in the resolution.
It needs to be able to consider the necessary industrial infrastructure in the form of drilling equipment, storage facilities, fuel pipelines, new roads, water and chemical imports, heavy industrial traffic using the ferries and highways, the implicit danger of transporting toxic, inflammatory and explosive fuels and the impact of fossil fuel extraction on the potential attractiveness of the Island to tourists.
Environmental questions include the danger of oil and gas leaking through the twisted strata of the Island’s complex geological base, the possible contamination of water supplies by chemicals used in the drilling process and the danger this poses to the general landscape. There is the public health implication of methane leakage, and fundamentally the danger of landslips, possible earthquakes and coastal failure.
With all these considerations in mind I urge members to support this resolution.
(i) The Isle of Wight Council notes that on December 17th 2015 five zones of the Isle of Wight considered for oil and gas extraction were all granted as open for conventional exploration licences and do not preclude unconventional drilling in the form of fracking.
(ii) The Council recognises that there is widespread public concern over the use of unconventional oil and gas extraction through fracking in terms of its potential environmental effects and implications on climate change in relation to the Eco-Island policy pursued by this Council since 2008, but also recognises that as a planning authority the council is unable to express opposition to the principal of fracking as this would suggest predetermination.
(iii) Council notes that for any application relating to the operations identified above to be successful on the Isle of Wight it would be required to satisfy, and not negatively impact upon all relevant policy requirements of the Island Plan, including, but not limited to:
DM2- Design quality
DM8- Economic development
DM11- Historic and built environment
DM12- Landscape, seascape biodiversity and Geodiversity.
DM13- Green Infrastructure
DM14- Flood Risk
(iv) Council further notes that fracking applications made in Lancashire and West Sussex have been refused by their principal authorities but before going to the planning inspectorate have been diverted to the Secretary of State for the Department of Communities and Local Government for a final decision. Lancashire County Council has in turn queried this process on the basis that the Government has a clear policy in favour of fracking and should therefore unable to take such planning decisions as there is a clear issue of predetermination by the Secretary of State. This Council fully supports these concerns as raised by Lancashire Council.
(v) Given the special circumstances of the Isle of Wight, the complex geological structure of the Island, the potential implications of the activities listed above, the extent and intensity of environmental conservation status on the landscape and coastline and importance of such to the wider tourism economy this Council resolves:
(1) To request that a planning performance agreement to be entered into by any developer wishing to undertake such activities including agreement to waive existing time limits for determination in order to ensure full consideration of impacts as required by the policies set out at (iii) above;
(2) To require any application, and all elements of the application including all matters relating to the policies set out at (iii) above, to be determined by the Council’s Planning Committee in accordance with the constitution as this Council deems that any such application would have Islandwide significance.
(3) In the event of a refusal of any such application by the Planning Committee, to request that any Appeal that might follow be determined by a body that has not predetermined or could be seen as having predetermined any issues in relation to the application.
Cllr Medland’s motion was passed with 22 in favour, three against and five abstentions. (see OnTheWight’s live coverage).
Image: © Simon Haytack