Confusion reigns in the corridors of power with contradiction at every turn on the UKs energy needs.
Recent reports released on the UK’s future in clean energy, climate change, and the Northern Energy Strategy have flagged the critical need to urgently prioritise low-carbon energy generation and the climate change obligations that the UK must meet by 2030, and essentially, only one of the reports mentions the fracking industry. The report where fracking is discussed briefly mentions it in a minimised capacity and doesn’t include it in UK future energy projections.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy released their Gas Security and Supply report, with a strategic analysis on outline energy projections for the coming years. The government indicated that shale gas is not needed for energy security and did not include it as a contribution to energy production figures for the UK.
The Clean Growth Strategy was also released this week, with positive talk from the UK government of a low-carbon future for the UK on ‘decarbonising the gas grid by substituting natural gas with low carbon gases like biogas and hydrogen.’
Theresa May stated within the report: “Clean growth is not an option, but a duty we owe to the next generation, and economic growth has to go hand-in-hand with greater protection for our forests and beaches, clean air and places of outstanding natural beauty.”
Additionally, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) released their A Northern Energy Strategy this week stated “Shale gas has garnered significant opposition from local communities and may be too environmentally risky to proceed with.”
That all sounds very encouraging... doesn't it?
The Government is still talking about introducing new fracking proposals, as confirmed by the Prime Minister at PMQs on the 25th Oct 2017, enabling unconventional Oil and Gas exploitation in communities across the country and committing the UK to fossil fuels for decades to come.
The Conservative manifesto made it clear that they intend to legislate take every decision on Oil and Gas exploration out of local control and make ALL drilling for fossil fuels permitted planning. They will go even further and decide multiple fracking applications in Westminster. The manifesto said: “The discovery and extraction of shale gas in the United States has been a revolution. Gas prices have fallen, driving growth in the American economy and pushing down prices for consumers” and it goes on to say “The US has become less reliant on imported foreign energy and is more secure as a result.” The party then states “We will therefore develop the shale industry in Britain.”
The proposals commit the conservative government to changing legislation and confirms its support to fossil fuels by pledging “We will legislate to change planning law for shale applications. Non-fracking drilling will be treated as permitted development, expert planning functions will be established to support local councils, and when necessary, major shale planning decisions will be made the responsibility of the National Planning Regime.”
Not only will these proposals commit the UK to fossil fuels for decades to come, jeopardising our legally binding commitments to the Paris accord, but they also drive drilling rigs through local democracy. Local communities will lose their right to say no to vast areas of the UK being turned into an industrialized gas field, in what can only be described as an attack on local democracy that will bring fracking by dictatorship.
Non-fracking drilling can have major local impacts, including traffic, landscape impacts, noise and the generation of large amounts of mining waste. Bringing it within permitted development would mean no planning application, no environmental impact assessment in most cases, no local democratic scrutiny and control and no voice for local people.
Such a move would be deeply unpopular. Opinion polling in the UK has consistently shown a majority are opposed to fracking. A recent opinion poll for Friends of the Earth surveying the views of residents of Lancashire, where Cuadrilla is hoping to frack in the near future, found that 66% of residents opposed the move, with 46% strongly opposed. This was also unpopular among Conservative voters, with 45% opposed and 39% supportive. The most recent government poll shows a record low of just 13% in favour. Over 99% of those responding to the Scottish government’s consultation were opposed to fracking going ahead in Scotland. This should give the UK government pause for thought, particularly in light of the 2017 Conservative manifesto commitment to develop the shale industry only “…if we maintain public confidence in the process”.
Removing local democratic scrutiny and control would run counter to the Government’s stated commitment to localism. As the current Energy Secretary Greg Clark MP told local councils while Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government “Don’t let yourself, any longer, be ruled by someone else”. But, by taking away the power of a local council to decide on whether or not it wants such significant and controversial development in its area, this is precisely what the Government would be doing.
Surely it's about time the brain kicked in at Westminster and the Government made a sensible decision to take the UK to the forefront of clean energy generation and lead the world. We don't want to be the 'Dirty man of Europe, it is time to drop this obsession with fracking for fossil fuels and adopt a Clean, Green Vision for Britain.