Fracking developments

The decision by Lancashire County Council to reject planning applications for shale gas is an important, but not fatal, development to the fracking industry. Certainly not in Scotland.

Lancashire councillors have rejected planning applications by Cuadrilla at Roseacre Wood (June 25) and Little Plumpton (June 29) despite the conditional approval of planning officers. The assessments provided to councillors are based on narrow planning factors and do not include the wider health impact of fracking, or the consequences for climate change.

After a Freedom of Information battle, Defra has been forced to publish the full environmental assessment on fracking. Previously omitted sections reveal that:

  • House prices near fracking wells were likely to fall, and there was a potential reduction of up to 7% in property values within a mile of wells.
  • Properties within a one- to five-mile radius of fracking sites may incur additional insurance costs.
  • Leakage of waste fluids from fracking processes has resulted in environmental damage in the US.
  • Even if contaminated surface water did not directly impact on drinking-water supplies, fracking could affect human health indirectly through consumption of contaminated wildlife, livestock or agricultural products. It concluded that the UK regulatory regime was “likely to be more robust” but the impact on water-resource availability, aquatic habitats and ecosystems, and water quality was “uncertain”.

The publication of this report was opposed by the industry amongst concerns that new ministers are too close to the sector. These concerns have been compounded when it was discovered that Tory MP Paul Maynard, a new advisor to the Energy Secretary Amber Rudd, received a £5,000 donation to his local party from a company set to benefit from the introduction of the technique. This donation doesn’t breach parliamentary or electoral rules, but the revelation comes as the debate over fracking and its impact on the environment is provoking fresh controversy.

The tentacles of the fracking industry doesn’t stop at the border. In Scotland, Labour called for a moratorium and then local referendums before developments went ahead. The industry, led by Ineos with its fracking exploration licences across the central belt, were duly outraged.

However, when SNP Energy Minister Fergus Ewing responded by announcing his own, albeit limited moratorium, the industry surprisingly welcomed it. We now know, thanks to FoI, that Nicola Sturgeon was meeting with Ineos boss Jim Ratcliffe at the very time the minister made his announcement. However, the Scottish Government is reluctant to tell us what she actually said to Ineos.

Labour MSP Lewis Macdonald, has been teasing out the detail of the moratorium that may explain why the industry is relaxed about the moratorium. It now appears that it doesn’t cover testing and preparatory drilling, or Underground Coal Gasification (UCG), a technique many consider more dangerous than fracking that is technically offshore but requires onshore infrastructure.

Last week, John Swinney called for potential profits from fracking to be devolved to Holyrood. He claimed it was merely for “policy completeness”, but opponents said it offered fresh evidence that behind the scenes, the SNP was paving the way to give fracking the go ahead.

As Daniel Sanderson put it in The Herald, “A moratorium that, five months on and with Ineos never planning be engaged in full-scale fracking for several years anyway, is yet to have been shown to be anything other than an exercise in political misdirection.”

 

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  • Posted in: Gas

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