Broken Promises, Light Touch Regulation – UK Fracking Policy a Failure

Food & Water Europe says UK Government stated goal "to assure the public that the shale industry is being taken forward in a measured and reasonable manner" is a failure.

Brussels, 14 December 2015 – The UK Government’s stated goal “to assure the public that the shale industry is being taken forward in a measured and reasonable manner” is a failure, according to a consultation response submitted by Food & Water Europe today.

“The disconnect between the Government’s sunny promises and its actions is glaring, and people can tell when they’re being sold a pup,” said the organisation’s EU Policy Advisor Eve Mitchell. “They break promises, sideline Parliament, and all the while the Government keeps saying, ‘Trust us.'”

The Government is consulting on proposals to restrict fracking from wells “drilled at the surface in specified protected areas”, appearing to portray the impacts of fracking as confined or containable. Yet water contamination, for example, can happen deep underground long distances from the well heads, due in no small part to modelling that is not sophisticated enough to reliably predict what will happen when huge pressures and temperatures are forced into complex natural systems.

“Clearly, National Parks are no place for fracking, but that’s not the point,” said Mitchell. “For a start, new rules mean protected areas can be ringed by wells fracking from below. Damage is inevitable, unpredictable and uncontrollable. Well placement, while important, can’t fix that. People won’t somehow be convinced that fracking can be safe just because the Government says so when they’ve already broken big promises.”

In January, the Cameron-led Government made an unequivocal “public commitment to an outright ban on fracking in National Parks, Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty”, raising public expectation that a ban would mean a ban. Yet, since then:

  • The Government moved to renege on its promised fracking ban in SSSIs and raised disquiet by going through Committee (avoiding Parliamentary debate) to permit fracking non-vertically under protected areas.
  • The Government announced that local planning authorities must fast-track fracking applications, and the Government can now decide (over the heads of local people) in any appeals companies lodge.
  • The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government announced that Cuadrilla’s controversial application in Lancashire for the UK’s biggest fracking project to date would be the first appeal decided this way. Cuadrilla’s fracking in Lancashire was halted in 2011 by earthquakes the company admits it caused.

Mitchell added, “Far from reassuring the public, this kind of thing reminds everyone that promises can be broken and regulations can be altered if the ‘burden’ on business is deemed too high. This is too important to get wrong, it’s dangerous economically and environmentally, and the Government isn’t even being strict about liability when things go wrong. While the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Governments begin to apply the brakes, England will be left to bear the brunt of the UK Government’s ambitions for fracking. We’ll all feel the effects if we don’t stop it.”

“The dislocation of UK Government policy is clear to the whole world thanks to the COP21 climate meeting in Paris. Back home, we know the only sensible approach to fracking is to ban it. The experience of other countries is shocking, people don’t consent and they’re right to object. Fiddling with the fine print isn’t the answer.”

For more information please contact:

Eve Mitchell, EU Policy Advisor – +44 (0)1381 610 740, [email protected]