Fracking company defies Wales’s shale gas moratorium by The Ecologist, February 7, 2015
This week the Welsh Assembly voted for a moratorium on fracking. But IGas company bosses insist that the Welsh Government is powerless to stop them pushing ahead with test drilling plans – as all the key decisions are made in Whitehall.
Nothing has changed in our plans to test drill for underground gas in Wrexham … the Welsh Government can refuse applications on planning grounds, but they have no power to stop fracking.
IGas has responded to a motion passed at the Welsh Assembly this week stating the Welsh Government’s opposition to shale gas extraction, declaring “they have no power to stop fracking!”
The motion calling for a fracking moratorium was tabled by Plaid Cymru, and passed with the support of Welsh Labour Assembly Members by a large margin: 37 for and 16 against.
Despite the cross party backing, the Welsh Government has yet to take action. Labour’s economy minister Edwina Hart, who backed the Plaid motion calling for a moratorium, has turned down calls for planning advice on fracking to be updated.
But insiders have indicated that the First Minster, Carwyn Jones, is currently seeking legal advice on what powers the Welsh Government has to effectively place a moratorium on fracking.
The UK Government currently has control over shale gas licensing but the Welsh Government has responsibility, in theory, for any related planning applications. But any appeals against refusals are judged by the London-based Planning Inspectorate for England and Wales.
And as IGas helpfully points out, these devolved planning powers render the Welsh Government helpless in protecting Welsh communities against any unwanted developments.
IGas: ‘we’re going ahead anyway’
The original IGas application to carry out test drilling at a site in Borras, near Wrexham was rejected by the democratically elected councillors on the local authority. The company then appealed against the decision, which went to the Westminster-controlled Planning Inspectorate, which overturned the earlier refusal.
An IGas spokesman told the Daily Post: “Nothing has changed in our plans to test drill for underground gas in Wrexham, which we will be continuing with.
“And if we were to put in a planning application in the future, which is rejected by Wrexham council, the appeal would go to the Welsh Secretary, which comes under Westminster, not the Welsh Government.
“The decision by the Welsh Government was not a moratorium. They can refuse applications on planning grounds, but they have no power to stop fracking.”
As Sion Chavez, editor of Daily Wales, points out, “It’s a situation which highlights the absurd consequences of having one country administered by a neighbouring country.”
“Scotland and Northern Ireland each have their own completely separate Planning Inspectorates which allow their own governments to oversee any appeals. But in the case of Wales, it’s the Planning Inspectorate for England and Wales.”
The SNP controlled Scottish Government has recently used its control over planning to announce an immediate moratorium on all fracking applications.
Welsh Government must be firm
Gareth Clubb, Director of Friends of the Earth Cymru, commented: “As soon as this legal advice is available, it needs to be published so that all the people of Wales can know where we stand on this problem.
“If a moratorium is within the Welsh Government’s powers then it just needs to get on and make it happen. If a ban isn’t possible, two things need to happen straight away. The first is that any powers restricting Wales’ ability to protect its communities should be devolved immediately.
“The second is that until those powers are devolved the Welsh Government must issue a Planning Policy Statement with a presumption against the development of unconventional oil and gas onshore in Wales.
“Anything other than these steps will suggest that the Welsh Government was being duplicitous through voting in favour of doing everything in its power to prevent fracking in Wales, but failing to take the action needed to deliver on its promise.”
Among other clauses, the successful motion calling for a fracking moratorium “Believes that energy should be fully devolved to the National Assembly for Wales and that the Welsh Government should have the power to block fracking.”
It further “Calls on the Welsh Government to do everything within its power to prevent fracking from taking place in Wales until it is proven to be safe in both an environmental and public health context.” [Emphasis added]
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