Fracking – getting the balance right

I RECENTLY met with villagers from the Vale of Glamorgan to hear their concerns about the potential for hydraulic fracturing or ‘fracking’ near their homes and I am frequently contacted by constituents from Penarth to St Brides regarding their concerns.

Meeting with the residents and representatives from Natural Resources Wales, the body responsible for approving the environmental permits for any ‘fracking’ applications, I was struck by the lack of information emanating from the Welsh Government on this matter and the anxiety it is causing.

The Welsh Government has sole responsibility for planning in Wales and therefore plays a crucial role in issuing guidance to local authorities on the determination of planning applications. Nowhere is this role more fundamental than in the area of fracking.

The Welsh Government has a prime opportunity to redress this vacuum in the forthcoming Planning Bill it is bringing before the National Assembly for Wales. Here, Welsh Government Ministers will finally be able to issue clear and unequivocal guidance to local authorities to better assist them in their decision making, whilst ensuring a strong vehicle for residents to have their say.

Sadly, last week, the Minister was unable to give a precise date of when we can expect this legislation to be brought forward. In the meantime, local authorities, residents and developers alike all remain in the dark as to what the future holds.

Certainty for all concerned is the key to securing a sustainable footing for our energy needs and whilst the potential economic benefits of shale gas are recognised, there remain concerns regarding the technology involved in fracking.

The industry must prove that the process does not cause damage to the environment and public health. The industry must also reassure the public that infrastructure and housing would not be affected in areas near to hydraulic fracturing operations.

Just this week, a family in Dallas, Texas won a landmark case for £3 million over the side-effects they suffered which has been attributed to their proximity to a drill site. Cases such as this highlight the importance of reasonable buffer zones for local residents and I have written to the Minister for Natural Resources in the Welsh Government to ask for him to look at the capacity of Natural Resources Wales to undertake research into the introduction of buffer zones for planning applications. Without this much needed research, residents are potentially being exposed to neighbouring drill sites unnecessarily.

With the Vale identified as a designated hotspot for ‘fracking’, this issue will prevail but with clear guidance from the Welsh Government, we can work to achieve a solution that meets everyone’s needs.