Wales

Carl Sargeant AM tries to end fracking ban confusion

Drilling has already prompted protests
Image caption Exploratory drilling has already prompted protests

The natural resources minister has tried to end the confusion over whether there is a ban on fracking in Wales.

Carl Sargeant said there was "no ambiguity" about a moratorium and Welsh government opposition to fracking.

He also defended the timing of his announcement on his position last month - before he has the powers to stop it.

There are no licence applications to drill for shale gas in Wales but if there were any, they would be decided in Westminster.

Fracking is a process of hydraulic fracturing of rocks deep underground to pipe gas to the surface.

There is no fracking for gas in Britain at the moment but it is a huge industry in the United States.

It is controversial though with concerns about the environment and underground water especially.

There have been protests against applications for test drilling for gas in both the Vale of Glamorgan and Wrexham.

Under the St David Day's Agreement, more powers on energy could be devolved to the Welsh government in the future.

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Mr Sargeant, who is also the planning minister, had told the assembly's environment committee that his ability to stop councils from backing fracking applications amounted to a moratorium.

His letter to the 25 planning authorities in Wales last month said where a local planning authority "do not propose to refuse an application for unconventional oil and gas development, the authority must notify the Welsh ministers."

That directive follows a vote in the Senedd, instigated by Plaid Cymru and supported by Labour AMs for the Welsh government to do everything in its power to prevent fracking from taking place in Wales.

Several members of the assembly's environment committee claimed the minister and the government were being vague.

But Mr Sargeant said opposition politicians were confusing fracking with exploratory drilling, which could be for different reasons.

"There's to be no determination of fracking in any local authority in Wales," he told BBC Wales.

"They will have to inform me. There's a moratorium in all planning authorities - that's very clear."

Mr Sargeant said he had some doubts about the evidence surrounding fracking and he had to be convinced about it.

He said licensing around fracking rests with the Westminster government but this could be devolved after the next general election whichever party is in power.

Fracking and the drilling to explore for gas is becoming an electoral issue in areas like Wrexham and the Vale of Glamorgan, where developers have already received permission from local authorities to drill to look for gas.

Other permits will be needed in future if these boreholes are to produce natural or unconventional gas in future.

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