Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Politics: 'Don't back the frack' plea to MP

Calder Valley MP Craig Whittaker is coming under increasing pressure to back the council’s will to keep Calderdale fracking free.

On Monday (January 26) Mr Whittaker will cast his vote on the Infrastructure BIll which, if passed, will give more powers to companies wishing to drill for shale gas - a process known as “fracking”.

If passed, the new legislation will strip landowners and local authorities of the right to deny access to potential sites, even if those sites are directly below residential properties.

Anti-fracking campaigner Helen Chuntso took her fight directly to Mr Whittaker, leaving her Luddenden Foot home at 3.30am to meet him at the Houses of Parliament.

Following their meeting, Ms Chuntso said: “It’s clear that Mr Whittaker isn’t feeling any heat from his constituents about this issue at the moment. He is poorly-educated on the issues he claims to know about, and is wrong if he thinks his myths are aligned with Calderdale’s future.

"It’s clear that he’s utterly out of his depth on knowledge, and in all credit to him he listened to what I said - we’ll just have to see if he’ll subsequently ignore me.”

Concerns have been raised that one out of every 20 fracking projects has led to the contamination of underground wells - the bill will also make it possible for companies to leave chemical waste from the fracking process underground.

Ms Chuntso said: “The people of Calderdale have a right to protect their health as New York state and other countries have by banning fracking.”

In a statement, Mr Whittaker said: “Shale gas is a promising new potential energy resource which could create thousands of jobs, bring in billions in tax revenues and secure our energy supply for the future.

“However, let me assure you that I strongly believe fracking operations should be safe, and must not be at the expense of local communities or the environment.

“Earlier this year, the Prime Minister announced that local councils can keep 100 per cent of business rates they collect from shale gas sites - worth up to £1.7 million a year for a typical site. “Community benefits for local people will also be strengthened - the industry also announced that local communities would receive £100,000 when a test well is fracked - and a further 1 per cent of revenues if shale gas is discovered.

“This could be worth £5 to £10 million for a typical producing site over its lifetime.”

Jenny Shepherd, the Green Party’s parliamentary candidate for Calder Valley, is urging Mr Whittaker to vote against the bill.

She said: “Evidence from the USA shows that fracking brings massive health and environmental costs.

“Even the Tory Prime Minister no longer makes claims about the job-creating potential of fracking, since these were discredited in a 2013 Goverment report. The Infrastructure Bill is a dog’s dinner that shows that the ConDem government is prepared to break our obligations under international law to reduce climate change.”

Josh Fenton-Glynn, Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Calder Valley, said it would be better for the Government to look at ways to move away from fossil fuels.

He said: “I oppose Fracking in Calderdale, because I believe a step toward greater fossil fuel dependency is a step in the wrong direction. Long term I want to encourage green investment in Calder Valley.”

James Baker, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrat group on Calderdale Council, wrote a motion that was passed through council last month to keep Calderdale fracking free - if the bill passes, this motion will not be enforceable.

He said: “As a party we are passionate about improving the energy efficiency of homes, and developing community owned sustainable energy schemes here in Calderdale. In contrast Mr Whittaker has shown he is happy to ignore local residents, and damage the environment.

“He argues there will be economic benefits, but to put it bluntly there won’t be economic benefits derived from living in a world ravaged by climate change.”

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