Gareth Clubb says that the Welsh Government could implement a moratorium on fracking in Wales tomorrow.
Fracking is terrible news for climate change and the environment, and it’s not welcomed by communities. Even fracking companies admit it won’t lower fuel bills, and concentrating on renewable energy and energy efficiency will bring many, many more jobs to Wales.
Friends of the Earth Cymru has been calling for a moratorium on unconventional gas for 18 months. In fact, Saturday 5 July was our Wales Against Fracking Day, when street stalls across the country were inundated with people sending postcards to the First Minister, calling for a moratorium on fracking in Wales.
So I was surprised to hear the First Minister’s response to a question in the National Assembly last week. Llŷr Huws Gruffydd asked:
“… there are those who believe that the planning rights that we have, if the Government so wished, could possibly lead, more or less, to a moratorium in this area. Are you of the opinion that Wales has the necessary planning powers that would allow it, if it so chose, to put a moratorium on such developments?”
To which the First Minister replied:
“No. It is extremely important that we have a planning system in Wales that gives us the level of control that we should have over our resources. That is not the case at present and, of course, I have seen what the Silk commission has recommended on the way forward for the future”.
We’ve long supported full devolution of all energy consenting, permitting, licensing and planning powers to Wales, and are delighted the First Minister is pressing for greater powers over planning. But his answer suggests that a fracking moratorium is not currently within the National Assembly’s competence.
Yet planning for ‘mineral workings’ is specifically included in the devolution settlement under Schedule 7 of the Government of Wales Act 2006 - the Welsh Government has total control over minerals planning, and could implement a moratorium on fracking in Wales tomorrow.
It’s hardly surprising the Welsh Government might want to pass responsibility for fracking in Wales to Westminster, given how deeply unpopular it is even before rigs spring up all around the country.
It’s also perhaps not surprising there’s some confusion over responsibility, as although the UK Government licenses oil and gas exploitation, the Welsh Government could still halt any onshore rigs or exploration through their control of planning.
And no wonder there’s little understanding of the details – the current policy document, Minerals Planning Policy Wales, dedicates a meagre two paragraphs to onshore oil and gas. And even this was published back in December 2000, at least a decade before unconventional gas came onto the radar in Wales. It’s high time for change.
Polls show that hundreds of thousands of people in Wales oppose fracking, and already AMs from all parties support a moratorium. Thousands more people added their voice on Wales Against Fracking Day, anti-fracking festivals and events are springing up around the country, and October’s Global Frackdown Day is likely to highlight the issue early in the next Assembly term.
So the First Minister needs to clear up the confusion before the term finishes this week, and give us all hope that as far as fracking is concerned, there is something he can do to protect the interests of the people of Wales.