Thank you for contacting me regarding fracking. I am deeply concerned by the proposals being brought forward by the Government, and on 27 October 2015 I joined parliamentary colleagues at the important committee meeting to discuss these worrying plans.

As you may be aware, the Infrastructure Act was introduced by the Coalition Government during the last Parliament. This Act makes it easier for access to be granted for companies seeking to extract shale gas.

While shale gas may have the potential to form part of our future energy mix, I believe that fracking should only go ahead in the UK in the context of robust regulation and comprehensive monitoring and in a way that is safe and consistent with our climate change targets. In the absence of adequate safeguards, it should not be allowed.

When the Infrastructure Bill was being debated before the general election, my Shadow Frontbench colleagues tabled an amendment to introduce tough environmental standards, safeguards for drinking water, protection for sensitive areas such as National Parks, and a robust regime of inspection.

At the time, this amendment was accepted by the Coalition Government without a vote but unfortunately Ministers backtracked and tabled a redrafted amendment in the House of Lords which removed a number of these protections, notably the ban on drilling in or under national parks and where drinking water supplies are too close by. Unfortunately, these weaker amendments were agreed by a majority of MPs and formed part of the Infrastructure Act.

I believe that the new draft regulations from the current Government are too weak. I appreciate that many environmental groups – including Friends of the Earth – are concerned about the risk of water contamination. I do share many of their concerns, specifically surrounding the potential risk of pollution fracking may pose to aquifers.

I share your disappointment that the Government has broken its promise not to allow fracking near important water zones and sites of special scientific interest. I believe the Government is side-lining people’s legitimate environmental concerns about shale gas.

No fracking should take place unless the safeguards that my Shadow Frontbench colleagues set out in the last Parliament are re-introduced. I am therefore pleased that my Shadow Frontbench colleagues are pressing for the Government’s draft regulations, which offer weakened protections for drinking water and national parks, to be debated in the House of Commons. I welcome the article written by Lisa Nandy, Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, and Kerry McCarthy, Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs which supports an outright ban for fracking in our most sensitive and protected areas.

Rest assured, as Labour’s Shadow Foreign Minister I look forward to working closely with my front bench colleagues to ensure this issue stays firmly on the political agenda.

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Catherine West MP

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