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MP criticises redacted fracking report

11th August 2014

The Green MP Caroline Lucas has accused the government of hiding information from the public on fracking after a report on the impact of shale gas on the rural economy was heavily redacted.

The document, released following a Freedom of Information Act request, had 63 redactions in 13 pages. It was written in March this year by the Rural Community Policy Unit at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The redactions include:

  • The author’s name
  • Executive summary – 8 redactions
  • Literature review – 5 redactions
  • Economic impacts – 4 redactions
  • Social impacts – 4 redactions
  • Impact on housing demand and property prices – 3 redactions
  • Impact on local services – 17 redactions
  • Conclusion – 16 redactions

Interviewed on this morning’s BBC Radio 4 Today programme, Caroline Lucas said: “The British public have got a right to know what the impact of shale gas is going to be in their local communities and this report is hiding that from them.”

DEFRA has not commented on the redactions. But a letter published when the report was released said: “There is a strong public interest in withholding the information because it is important that officials can consider implications of potential impacts and scenarios around the development of the shale gas industry and to develop options without the risk that disclosure of early thinking could close down discussion.”

Caroline Lucas said: “The research has been done. The conclusions are embarrassing to the government and that’s why they don’t want to put it in the public domain.

“If we are to have a sensible debate about energy futures in this country you can’t have a government hiding information from the public.”

Among the material that was not redacted was evidence of falling house prices in fracking areas in north America. One study in Texas found a 3-14% decline in properties valued at more than $250,000 within 1,000ft of a well site. Other studies found a 4-7~% fall within 4km (Alberta) and an average 5.6% fall (Pittsburg). A study in Pennsylvania found a positive impact on house prices within 2km of gas wells but the report said there was not enough data to establish which factors were causing prices to rise.

The report also said local services could put be put under pressure by workers and their families arriving to work on shale sites. But it added only qualitative evidence was available of this happening.

In conclusion it said: “To a large extent these effects are already experienced by those rural communities located near established extraction activities e.g. quarrying, mining and conventional gas extraction. Unfortunately none of the international reports reviewed contained any robust quantitative assessment of the cost and benefits or impacts from shale gas on rural communities.”

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