13th August 2014
An editorial in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph urged the government to share what it called the “bad news – and the bonanza – on fracking”.
“It is patronising and self-defeating”, it said, “to avoid a discussion about the localised implications of drilling”.
The Telegraph, which says it has “consistently argued in favour of speedy shale gas exploitation”, was referring to research by the Department of Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs on the effects of fracking on the rural economy. The document, released under a Freedom of Information Act request, was heavily censored, with more than 60 redactions across its 13 pages. Our report.
Much of the media coverage of the report focussed on what it said about falling house prices near fracking sites in north America. But many of the redactions were in the section which dealt with social impacts and jobs.
This isn’t the first example of an official reluctance to publish discussion on these negative impacts of fracking. Sue Taylor, from Balcombe in West Sussex, raised the likely impact of fracking on local jobs at a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Unconventionals in January 2014. She told the then planning minister, Nick Boles, there were likely to be job losses in long-established local businesses in tourism and agriculture if fracking went ahead in the country.
But when the APPG’s report of the meeting was published all the references she made to the negative impact on local jobs had been excluded.
This is how the APPG reported her comments:
Sue Taylor (Balcombe resident) expressed her concern that in its enthusiasm to drive shale gas development, the Government won’t undertake appropriate due diligence on prospective operators and so will leave Sussex taxpayers paying for unscrupulous companies that fold and walk away. Additionally, the costs of road repair, infrastructure development will have to be locally met.
And this is the transcript of what she really said:
Sue Taylor, Chartered Accountant and Resident of Balcombe. To me this feels like the banking crisis all over again because you are starting something where the costs will be passed onto the taxpayer and I am very concerned that in your enthusiasm for investment in this industry some of the steps you are taking are just going to land Sussex tax payers with a very large bill. You have already told the industry that they don’t need to put up a bond, they don’t need to put money up front. These are very small companies, the companies that are doing this. They set themselves up as small limited liability companies that can in fact just fold and they can walk away and we know from the experience in America that this is happening there already. So we have the problem of these potential costs going to the taxpayer.
We also know from the AMEC report that there will be enormous amounts of road traffic, and again the cost of road repairs will pass to the taxpayer, and building more roads increasing regulations there are so many costs that ….(sound muffled).
We hear about jobs being created but we don’t hear about job losses. Tourism is worth £8 billion in Sussex, £8 billion, and in this country the GDP of tourism is 9%. Tourists are not going to want to come to the Sussex countryside and look at flares and look at large numbers of trucks trundling along. So we need both sides of the equation. I find it very worrying. It is sort of like “cheerleading” one side of the industry. We are hearing one side of the industry but not the other side of the cost equation. It is very dangerous and so I would like your comments on the other side of the cost equation.
Geoffrey Lean, also writing for the Telegraph this week, said the government’s redacted report “raised suspicions in Middle Britain that ministers and industry have a lot to hide on how fracking will affect its vital interests”.
He quotes a comment retweeted by Alister Scott, Professor of Environmental and Spatial Planning at Birmingham City University:
There are only 2 situations when a report should be redacted: national security & commercial confidentiality. This seems neither [Aug 11 07.46]
This episode, Geoffrey Lean said, is “bound to drive Middle Britons even further into the arms of the militant protesters who oppose the drilling on principle”. These two constituencies, he said, are very hard to beat when they combine to fight on an environmental issue.
“The Government and industry will have to win the trust of the affected communities – and, at present, they are going totally the wrong way about that.”