Politics

Local support for fracking – how would you know?

Both Conservative leadership contenders have said they’re in favour of fracking if it has local support – but so far neither have explained how this would be measured or proved.

Opponents of Cuadrilla fracking site at Preston New Road near Blackpool. Photo: Preston New Road Action Group

Liz Truss was asked during last night’s hustings in Leeds how she would determine if local people wanted fracking.

She replied:

“One of the ways that we gain local support is for people sharing the benefits of, for example, gas extraction.”

Pressed by the LBC presenter, Nick Ferrari, how she would know, Ms Truss replied:

“We’ve got these things called councils that assess local opinion. I was on a planning committee of a council, not the best experience I’ve had in my life, but local authorities, local MPs, we gauge local opinion that way.”

Rishi Sunak has confirmed he backs fracking where there is local support but he has not given any more detail.

DrillOrDrop asked both candidates today:

  • how would local support for fracking be measured?
  • which local people’s views would be counted?
  • who would assess the level of local support for fracking?

Neither replied.

So we don’t know whether they are thinking about public opinion surveys, referendums, public consultations, petitions, or the hunch of local politicians. Or perhaps, neither candidate has thought about this yet.

The Johnson government is currently considering whether to lift the moratorium on fracking in England based on a review of scientific developments.

Local opinion and planning

If the frontrunner, Liz Truss, wins the leadership election and does what she says she would do, there might need to be a change to planning law.

Currently, decisions about fracking sites are made on what are known as material planning considerations.

These include issues, such as noise or disturbance, loss of light or outlook, impact on landscape or protected areas, traffic and road safety, lighting, planning policies and previous decisions.

People are invited to express their views in a formal consultation.

The number of comments in support or opposition, even in the most controversial cases, are a fraction of the total population of an area and they may, or may not, be representative.

But local opinions alone are not supposed to sway decision-makers. Government policy states:

“local opposition or support is not, in itself, a ground for refusing or granting planning permission, unless it is founded upon valid material planning reasons.”

Public consultations are open to people from across the country, not just residents living close to a proposal. Some councils give details of where supporters or objectors live. But there is no published evidence that the views of people living outside an area are discounted just because they are not local.

There’s no information from the leadership candidates about how much consideration would be given to the level of support or opposition for a scheme, or whether some views would count more than others.

In rural areas, where fracking proposals are more likely, the number of people directly affected by impacts such as noise or light pollution could be relatively small. It’s not clear, whether the views of these residents alone would be considered.

Deliveries by large vehicles to a fracking site, however, could affect people living further away. Neither candidate has explained whether these residents would also get a say.

And some impacts of fracking could affect people in a wider area. In Lancashire, people living across the Fylde region reported damage from a small earthquake caused by fracking at Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site in 2019. Should everyone in this area have a say too?

Climate change is a material consideration in planning decisions. The impact on greenhouse gas emissions of a shale gas site – and more importantly its product – would affect a much larger number of people.

Campaigners argue that the climate is no respecter of boundaries. So would everyone in England, or the UK, qualify for a view?

What do opinion polls say?

One of the recent surveys, a YouGov poll published in May 2022, found that 46% of people thought Britain should not restart fracking. 27% said it should. 26% said they didn’t know.

The shale gas industry lobbyist, UK Onshore Oil & Gas (UKOOG), said this poll also showed that 29% of people were in favour when asked about shale gas in their local area.

If local shale gas production meant a reduction in bills for people in the community, UKOOG said 59% were then in favour.

YouGov has not published data that supports UKOOG’s conclusions. We’ve asked UKOOG for details but the organisation has not replied.

The government’s most recent wave tracker survey, published in December 2021, before the Ukraine war, found 45% opposed fracking while 17% supported.

What about petitions?

A petition on the government website to end England’s moratorium on fracking has had 18,454 signatures since March 2022. This represents 0.034% of UK adults. If the petition gets 100,000 signatures by 21 August 2022 the issue could qualify for a parliamentary debate.

A petition started yesterday by Friends of the Earth calls on the next prime minister to keep the moratorium in place. We’ll follow the progress of this petition.

Or elections?

The new prime minister might argue that local opinion could be assumed from the level of election votes for the Conservatives in a local area.

This would, however, require a new election and a new Conservative manifesto.

At the last election in 2019, the Conservative Party said it would not support fracking unless the science showed categorically that the process could be done safely. Neither Liz Truss nor Rishi Sunak have qualified their support for fracking with scientific evidence.

Extract from the Conservative Party 2019 election manifesto

The significance of fracking at the next election may depend partly on the stand taken by other parties, most of whom promised in 2019 to ban fracking.

The anti-fracking network, Frack Free United, reported last night that 142 constituencies were covered by fracking licences. It said:

  • 60 constituencies covered by a licence were marginal seats (less than 10,000 majority)
  • 54 constituencies covered by a licence had an anti-fracking presence
  • 18 constituencies covered by a licence were former” red wall seats”

Mark Menzies, the Conservative MP for Fylde, told iNews it was unlikely that any community would be willing to allow fracking because of the damage it was capable of doing to properties.

“The manifesto says the moratorium is in place unless the science changes, but has it changed? No.

“The number of wells we would need to make up the shortfall in gas supplies in this country would be thousands and thousands, all over the country, including the south east of England. And even then it would take 10 years to generate that much gas.”

Offshore wind model or nationally-significant infrastructure?

The new prime minister could use the revised planning rules for onshore wind as a template for fracking decisions.

In June 2015, the government said local people must have “the final say” on onshore windfarms in their area.

The rules said councils could grant planning permission only if:

  1. The site was in an area identified as suitable as part of a local or neighbour plan
  2. “Following consultation, the planning impacts identified by affected local communities had been fully addressed and. therefore had their backing”

If these rules were applied to fracking sites, what would happen if companies appealed – as they have in five cases? How would a planning inspector or government minister give local people “the final say”.

And would the second rule make much difference to the planning process? Currently, the planning system should already address impacts identified by affected local people. But this does not necessarily block planning permission or mean that local people give a scheme their backing.

The shale gas industry appears to be pulling in the opposite direction. UKOOG called last month for shale gas developments to be defined as nationally-significant infrastructure.

This would take decisions away from local councils and give them to planning inspectors and ministers. Proposals would probably have to go through public inquiries and decisions would be likely to take longer than those made by councillors.

20 replies »

  1. The Tory 2019 manifesto pledged fracking would not be supported unless the science showed categorically that the process could be done safely. The Tory party as a whole, not the leader, were elected on the understanding that the moratorium would stay in place until such time that there is evidence of its safety. That same Tory party is still in office. A change of leader should not be allowed to change the manifesto. It was the safety concerns around fracking that brought about the moratorium, NOT the views the community. Are Truss and Sunak now intending to use the bribe of cheaper gas to compliant communities even if that means ignoring the safety which concerned them when they drew up the manifesto? Given the large area of the country and the great number of sites involved, it would be impossible to create any just way of determining who would be included in ascertaining whether a community was in favour or not. The whole proposal is unworkable without forcing fracking onto communities. The promise of cheaper gas for locals, assuming it could be specified exactly who these locals were anyway, seems far fetched since it would be years before any kind of commercial scale industry would produce gas.

    • Not well said at all.

      There are already established procedures regarding local support or not for wind turbines, equally there are similar for schemes to provide discounted energy prices. It would be quite easy to develop based upon what is already in place.

      The report is with the Government regarding safety. If that is assessed as satisfactory, then the moratorium could be lifted and then it would be down to local opinion to decide. Not just the few who shout the loudest, but those who will still be impacted. Maybe energy costs will now be important to people in certain areas, who would otherwise not take much interest. There are some who contribute to this site who appear to have already decided it will not be important, so, what is the problem?? Mind you, it is the same some who decided locals to PNR would refuse the earlier inconvenience payments! Often the loud shouting is because they are not giving the message that people listen to.

  2. He still does not get it. ¨ Not just the few who shout the loudest, but those who will still be impacted.”
    We are all impacted. The planet is on fire: we are burning up, and there are still those who argue that it is impacted Britons who matter the most. This is a vile so-called “red meat” argument, one we are becoming increasingly familiar with. It is the same argument that seeks ‘Lebensraum’ (remember?) for nice English people by deporting nasty immigrants to somewhere we can forget about.
    It is an argument that is likely to prevail in the short term when the political embodiment of such
    views, (whichever candidate wins), receives the approval of the best our democratic process seems able to throw up (in both senses) at this moment in history.
    They’ve given us a part – Brexit which is throttling us: now they want to frack the planet.
    This is an appeal to those with values: wise up, get real, humanity is being consumed, the planet is burning. Those who regard this as exaggeration might take time off to view Big Oil vs The World, -recent history some would have us repeat.

    • Iaith1720

      https://www.lincolnshirelive.co.uk/news/local-news/deadline-controversial-west-burton-solar-7389044

      Big Solar Vs the world

      Good place for the solar farm, it will be near the grid infrastructure left behind by the Trent Coal Fired Power Stations. But the red meat argument carries on – not here thanks (somewhere else where we can forget about it hopefully).

      Re Lebensraum – Lebensraum is a German concept which consists of policies and practices of settler colonialism which proliferated in Germany from the 1890s to the 1940s. If the UK was practicing this then we would be sending the ‘nice English’ to somewhere we can forget about (along with the nice Welsh, scots, N Irish)?

      • Little bit more to Lebensraum than you’ve been able to find out, Hewes62. I’ll leave you with it whilst also pointing out that ‘Big Solar’ is not burning the planet in quite the same way as Big Oil.
        I’ll let you reflect on this whilst thanking you for your interesting observations.

  3. Oh dear.

    Well 1720, you obviously have no respect for the majority, either!!

    My goodness, what a bitter little world you portray. I am sure that the locals around the sites that may be asked the question are really enthusiastic that your support represents them. LOL. (They vote Tory, 1720, around PNR! Well, enough of them do.)
    You go and spend your time travelling those many miles to protest. But, it may be a good idea to be able to at least state you are protesting against something that actually happened! Recent history is another of your Achilles heels eg. HMG campaigned against Brexit. Just like you, they lost. Get over it. Bitter losers do not appeal to that many.

    Looks to me as if there is concern that the real target audience may make the decision some would not wish for. Not sure just insulting them before they do, is going to get a positive reaction. But, keep up the good work. Good way to get the silent majority stirred up. Those mainly Tory voters will appreciate how much effort you have put into appealing to them-by insulting them!

    • On the contrary, Martin, I believe that there is enough innate goodness in humanity to overcome the arguments of those whose view of humanity is indeed a bitter one – man devoid of values, man out only for what benefits himself, man who assesses everything by its monetary worth, man anxious to reduce all to this jaundiced and inaccurate view, the kind of view which not merely propagates The Lie but establishes it as a political system ensuring that future leaders have their share in The Lie.
      This is what we ‘’antis’ hope to overturn in our protests, establishing a less selfish, less unequal society. If we are at all “bitter”, it’s because the struggle at times seems uphill, the struggle with the pessimists. As I’ve said before, the term ‘antis’ is misapplied.The term might better be used to designate those who are against humanity.
      Again, I find that I can disregard most of the irrelevancies in your posting.

  4. The BGS review has not been made public. The moratorium should only be lifted on condition of new scientific evidence that fracking can be done safely and WITHOUT unacceptable impacts on local communities. Neither of these conditions have therefore been proven and it is extremely doubtful that fracking could ever operate without unacceptable impacts on local communities.
    It is inappropriate for Truss and Sunak to state their intention to lift the moratorium without publishing the BGS review and justifying their reasoning. Further, communities should be afforded the same powers to veto fracking that has been given to communities over onshore wind development. Anything less is completely unacceptable.
    Given fracking is unproven, will take a decade (Kwasi Kwarteng’s words) to establish an industry, it will not help the current energy crisis and will not lower bills. The industry is not in any position to even talk profit shares nor discounts off bills on this basis. Like so much of what has been reported in the press it is all fracking hype and does not stand up to scrutiny.
    Once the facts are out, and they will be, the lies will be laid bare. And fracking and this foolish decision to lift the moratorium will be deeply unpopular. Something to keep in mind with a general election less than two years away.

  5. I believe the objectives for the report are established KatT. They were not to satisfy antis. They were to re-examine the science. I suggest you avoid interpretation of the science before it is even there to interpret.

    But there is a simple mathematical way to test local support. One takes the number of locals that were filmed protesting and then subtracts that from the local population. If the figure remaining is larger than the numbers of locals filmed, then the rest of the locals were obviously not excited enough to object! One can then start the speculation. Were they too busy looking for a second job to enable them to pay their energy bills?

    Hmm, maybe that is why the excited ones have become excited again?

    A decision has not been made, KatT. A report was commissioned, has now been received, is being reviewed, and a decision will then be taken. Like most decisions made by politicians, whatever the decision, it will be deeply unpopular-amongst some. The politicians have to decide if it is the correct decision. When it comes to a GE the voters decide, including waitresses and those who requested Brexit, whether enough correct decisions in their view-not yours, and thankfully not 1720’s- have been made and what was the oppositions proposal at that time. Those that lose, again, then whinge and seek to have the system changed to allow them to win, except that has already been examined, and the majority don’t want that. So, the majority end up with being insulted. Has always been so, and the use of the Internet is just another mechanism. Nobody ever stated that democracy doesn’t produce losers, but it does tend to produce a lot less than other systems where the minority control decisions. Most in democracies still understand what are facts, look for those rather than interpret and do recall what has happened in the recent past and so will not fall prey to those who have a platform which is the opposite of their understanding.

  6. Martin, people protesting is no way to measure opposition or support, as you well know and nothing I have written suggests I consider the objectives of the review were to satisfy so called “antis”. A derogatory, meaningless term. And as for the rest of your reply, I’m afraid I cannot understand some of the point(s) you are making.
    The point I have correctly made is that Truss and Sunak have both made the decision to lift the moratorium without publishing the report or their reasons. That is fact and if the report is still being reviewed and they will make a decision accordingly, as you state, then why have they decided to lift the moratorium already?
    As for GEs I understand our voting system perfectly and am delighted that waitresses and Brexit supporters, indeed everyone eligible has the right to vote, though I’m puzzled why waitresses and supporters of Brexit were singled out. I fully support democracy, including the great importance of local democracy and devolved powers. And I do most definitely deal in facts.

  7. Given your own stated and confirmed repudiation of the science and mathematics underlying warnings of global over- heating, Martin, I would suggest you avoid giving any advice concerning how the report of the relevant commission might be interpreted.
    KatT will know that the BGS’s brief is primarily to report on whether new fracking techniques might minimise the risks of seismicity. She is clearly aware that there are many other objections to fracking, current long before seismicity occasioned the moratorium.
    Your second paragraph (and the third) is a clear indication of the puerility of the level of mathematics invoked by the real antis, the polluters.
    Might I further suggest that you avoid your assessment of how the September government will treat the findings until the findings are available.
    You might also take into consideration that most of us living in a self-styled democracy are, if at all interested, aware of the usual processes without your helpful instruction. They are perhaps not all naïve enough to assume that political considerations never lead to a decision which ignores the findings of such reports to the advantage of the decision makers.
    When it comes to a General Election, the voters, including the science repudiators and the manipulators of arithmetic, those who inflicted Brexit upon our country, Martin’s waitresses and teachers, those who prefer not to engage with the day-to-day political process and those who fight for better in the face of ridicule will decide, using various criteria – including self-interest, opinion polls, family voting history, personal predilections, the government’s appalling record on almost everything, prejudices, press opinions, the facts and their own interpretation of them, their ideas and hopes on what a real democratic government could achieve, candidates’ promises and the current state of humanity – on whether to overturn or continue with whatever path the September 2022 government has chosen with or without the support of a decision on seismicity’s risks.
    I think you would be well advised, Martin, to avoid lectures to the converted, including those who understand that democracy can take many forms, some fairer than others, on the advantages of a democratic system. Your lecture might just be interpreted as condescension with little basis in expertise of any relevant kind.
    After all, Martin, as you so sagaciously opine: “Most in democracies still understand what are facts, look for those rather than interpret and do recall what has happened in the recent past and so will not fall prey to those who have a platform which is the opposite of their understanding.” I am not sure whether “most” is demonstrably true, but many do and we must hope that looking back over a decade of misrule, the many will indeed be the majority.

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