December 14th, 2015

You Say, “Commitment.” I Say, “Convince Me.” – UK Fracking Policy Failure

By Eve Mitchell

Ban Fracking

I’m one of those women who doesn’t like fracking. I’m pretty sure my gender has nothing to do with it, and I’m irked by the dismissal of my considered objection as some frail, fearful failure to understand (and the rest of the bogus lines trotted out by vested interests, which are pretty insulting to men, too).

I’m not daunted by “an awful lot of facts”, but it is true that “more facts are not going to make any difference” to my views on fracking.

It’s quite simple really.

Fact: In January 2015, hot on the heels “streamlining” UK planning policy for infrastructure projects that promised to “make it fairer and faster for communities and applicants alike”, the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) announced a “commitment to an outright ban on fracking in National Parks, Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty”.

Hooray! (Ish – that leaves a lot of other places to go “all out for shale”.)

Fact: Days later, DECC Minister Amber Rudd wobbled: “[I]t might not be practical to guarantee that fracking will not take place under them [protected areas] in all cases without unduly constraining the industry.”

By July the DECC confirmed it would be “impractical” to honour its January commitment. Instead there’s a new “clear commitment to ensure that fracking cannot be conducted from wells that are drilled in the surface”, but drilling under them is just fine, and the definition of protected area excludes SSSIs altogether.

By October it was clear those proposals would not be debated in Parliament, but only in Committee, raising accusations the Government was “sneaking” changes through. Meanwhile other accusations arose that the Minister may have mislead Parliament (naughty!) by saying the UK was “on course” to meet EU renewables obligations when she knew we are on course to miss them while cutting support for wind and solar energy.

Hmmm…

I’ll go out on a limb here and suggest that the reason I smell something bad is not because I happen to be female.

Fact: At the beginning of 2015, the UK Government told the European Commission that:

• It will not automatically require fracking companies to fix damage they cause.
• It does not have “measures in place to ensure that the provisions on environmental liability are applied to all activities taking place at an installation site”, and it only “partially” requires frackers to provide a financial guarantee they can meet potential liabilities for their environmental damage. There’s no economic liability at all.
• Information on accidents and inspection results is only “partially” published, so we can’t tell what damage needs cleaning up anyhow.

The phrase “so far as is reasonably practicable” is used repeatedly to limit the responsibilities on frackers. I’m keen to understand how “reasonably practicable” will be measured, and by whom, so I can understand how enforcement can work.

It’s very hard to come up with a kind interpretation for this sidewinding. It looks very much like frackers’ profits are protected more carefully than the environment, and that the Government considers “unduly constraining” the fracking industry to be worse than fracking Sites of Special Scientific Interest (the clue is in the name for me).

True the January promise was made by the Coalition, and the Government is now fully Conservative, but the backpedalling started well before the elections.

Food & Water Europe submitted some thoughts along these lines to a public consultation today. The Government’s stated aim is “to assure the public that the shale industry is being taken forward in a measured and reasonable manner”. It’s a failure because far from reassuring the public, its actions keep reminding everyone that promises can be broken and regulations can be altered if the “burden” on business is deemed too high.

Does this make me sceptical of more big promises from government and big business? Big time. I don’t like the democratic deficit or the track record or the gaping holes in the science on fracking. I’ve also seen the same arguments waved around by the GM industry for years – if you oppose us, you are afraid and don’t understand how fabulous we are. My “gut reaction”: Hogwash.

Will Prime Minister Cameron force fracking onto unwilling communities? Why not ask him now.

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