The death of fracking in Wales?

IssueApril 2015 - May 2015
News by Kelvin Mason

Elements of a campaign by Frack Free Wales came together in January when Ceredigion council voted to become the first ‘frack-free’ local authority in Wales.

Fracking is shorthand for ‘hydraulic fracturing’ for oil or gas, underground coal gasification, and coal-bed methane, all of which threaten Wales.

None of these fuels exist in Ceredigion, however. The council’s decision reflected its commitment to moving away from all fossil fuels, which drive climate change. Councillors were stating that Ceredigion cares about others – in Wales, internationally, and in future.

Ceredigion’s decision opened the way for petitions across Wales.

A week later, Ceredigion’s assembly member Elin Jones forced a debate in the senedd on transferring decision-making powers on fracking to Wales.

The Welsh government then declared a ‘moratorium’, something they’d insisted was beyond their powers. Actually, what they did was strip councils of the power to decide on fracking applications.

Observers argued about whether the government could do this. Then, in the ‘St David’s Day Agreement’, David Cameron did propose giving Wales more control over energy policy, including fracking.

Both the Welsh Labour government and Plaid Cymru denounced the proposals as second-rate devolution.

Confusion persists

Does the moratorium apply to coal-bed methane? Only if it involves fracking. Does it apply to exploratory drilling? No, such decisions remain the province of councils. Keith Ross of Frack Free Wales wrote:

‘The Welsh government’s stance on fracking has not changed. They’re not opposed to fracking per se, they just want stronger regulation. Once they have the new regulations in place they fully intend to press on with unconventional gas development…’

In the light of political turmoil and public concern, a forum in Aberystwyth on 23 April asks what Ceredigion’s decision, the Welsh government’s ‘moratorium’ and devolved powers actually mean.

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