The government has been accused of attacking democracy and privately contradicting public statements, following publication at the weekend of a leaked letter on fracking policy.
The letter, signed by three cabinet ministers, recommended taking planning decisions on fracking applications out of local control. It also said protections in the Infrastructure Act should not create fresh barriers to shale gas development DrillOrDrop report
In the letter to the Chancellor, Amber Rudd (energy), Liz Truss (environment) and Greg Clark (communities and local government) said shale gas sites should be classified as Nationally Significant Infrastructure projects. If approved, this would transfer decision-making from local councils to a government-appointed planning inspector.
The letter set a timetable for the development of shale gas, aiming for a mature production industry within 10 years. It also made it a top priority to ensure protections in the Infrastructure Act did not obstruct fracking across the country. The ministers said:
“One of our top priorities will be to examine what work is required to ensure that the safeguarding provisions in the [Infrastructure] Act do not inadvertently create fresh barriers to exploration and to minimise the delays that the requirements in the act have introduced.”
Here’s our round-up on reaction from campaigners, industry and government.
Friends of the Earth
Campaigner, Tony Bosworth, said:
“Any move to take decision-making on fracking away from local councils and railroad it through would be another serious attack on democracy, and a sure sign that the Government has lost the argument.”
“Even before ministers had published the regulations supposedly protecting our most beautiful landscape and wildlife sites from fracking, they were writing that it was a priority to make sure this didn’t hamper or delay the industry. The government’s public line is very different to its private view.”
Frack Free Balcombe Residents’ Association, West Sussex
Malcolm Kenward, of the group formed to oppose operations by Cuadrilla in the village, said yesterday:
“It’s an attack on democracy, the way the Government is passing legislation in all-out support for companies prospecting for unconventional oil and gas.
“Back in 2013, when all this was in its infancy, Balcombe made a stand. We have learnt a lot more since then about the risks posed by unconventional oil and gas exploration, and about the machinations of government and industry.
Preston New Road Action Group, Lancashire
Pat Davies, the chair of the group formed to oppose Cuadrilla’s proposed fracking operation at Preston New Road in the Fylde, said:
“This is yet again an attempt to subvert the democratic process. The government is striving to impose an industry through bypassing elected local planning committees, forcing fracking upon communities at any cost. This latest travesty from Westminster seems to be an attempt to predetermine outcomes in relation to fracking, irrespective of local community wishes.
“The involvement of Greg Clarke and this document raises serious fundamental questions on Lancashire’s fracking appeal hearing about to take place. We would welcome an investigation from the Commons’ Energy and Climate Change committee on this exposed letter.”
Claire Stephenson, from Preston New Road, said:
“Our future rests in the hands of a man who has no local knowledge and won’t be present for any of the Public Inquiry hearings, yet believes he is best placed to overrule local democracy and make the end decision.
“It’s rather ironic Clark has pulled the fracking applications back to central government for their determination, considering his job role is to promote local governance and cohesion. Only last year, he was championing local government to take control of their own destinies and was quoted as saying: ‘Take power now. Don’t let yourself, any longer, be ruled by someone else.’ Clearly he only meant as long as it suits Westminster and their private corporate agendas.”
Roseacre Awareness Group, Lancashire
Barbara Richardson from RAG (a group opposing Cuadrilla’s proposed fracking site at Roseacre Wood in the Fylde) said:
“Our group is currently in the process of preparing evidence by expert witnesses which supports Lancashire County Council’s decision to refuse planning permission at the two sites in Lancashire. It is costing our small community tens of thousands of pounds, and much stress and anxiety, but we are doing it because we believe we have a strong case and are justified. This leaked letter flies in the face of everything we are doing and the meaning of local democracy. How hypocritical of the government who advocate local decision making, such as on wind farms, but it appears to be only when it suits them and their agenda.”
“Not one of these ministers has ever bothered to come and talk to us, the actual communities, who would be first affected, about our concerns despite numerous invitations. They will see we are not nimbys, scaremongers, colonels or crusties or even sceptics: just residential communities under great risk. We have spent much time and effort looking into the potential impacts. We are not alone. Communities across the UK are waking up. This is a large scale onshore gas industry and will need thousands upon thousands of wells in some of our most pristine and beautiful countryside.”
“Have Westminster not learned anything from the problems that have been experienced by people and countries living this fracking nightmare? Our government seems to have stuck their head in the sand and is determined not to pull it out. They are in for a wake up call as more and more communities become aware of what the damaging impacts of this industry really are. With awareness grows opposition and Westminster needs to listen to the people or they will face the repercussions at the ballot box.”
UK Onshore Oil and Gas
Ken Cronin, the chief executive of UKOOG, the representative body for the UK’s onshore oil and gas industry, said:
“This is a heavily regulated industry with four separate regulators, all with their own suite of oversight. Recent experience has shown that the planning process for exploration needs to be made quicker and within prescribed timescales. The time taken for planning decisions has soared from three months to over a year and this is prohibitively expensive for local councils and operators.
“However it is important that local people can put forward their point of view and they are assured that the highest standards of safety and environmental protection are met but unless the industry can drill exploratory wells we will not know whether gas can be produced economically and safely and by 2030 80% of our gas will be imported from overseas.”
A statement from UKOOG added:
“The UK onshore oil and gas industry is committed to consulting and working with local communities to develop the gas resources that this country needs to access to strengthen its energy security and the need to move away from coal as a source of power generation as quickly as possible. The industry welcomed the Government’s announcement last year to treat shale as a national priority, (as is the case for the wind, tidal and nuclear industries).”
“Recent research undertaken for an alliance of trade associations by ComRes revealed that more than half of the UK population – 55% – wants to prioritise gas produced in the UK, including shale gas produced by hydraulic fracturing, over energy imported from overseas.”
- DrillOrDrop invited Cuadrilla and INEOS to comment on the leaked letter. Cuadrilla referred us to the UKOOG response.
A government spokesperson said yesterday:
“We are backing shale because it’s good for our energy security and will help create jobs and growth. We need to press ahead and get exploration underway so that we can determine how much shale gas there is and how much we can use.
“Ministers have made very clear that communities will always be involved in planning applications and people’s safety and the environment will remain paramount.”
Labour’s energy spokesperson, Lisa Nandy, told The Guardian today:
“These latest revelations [on fracking in National Parks] show that ministers are intent on imposing fracking on communities against their will, regardless of the consequences for the environment. Government should act in the interests of the whole country, not just the fracking industry.”
Angus MacNeil, the SNP chair of the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee, told The Telegraph:
“There is a massive double standard her when the Tory Government now wants to run roughshod over the wishes of local communities.
“I feel sorry for people in England who can have their wishes and powers disregarded by a centralised two-faced government driving a very narrow agenda.
“It will be a worrying development for many communities in England and my committee may scrutinise inconsistencies in energy policy approach.”
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