FRACKING – Cognitive Dissonance On An Industrial Scale
By David Powell – New Economics Foundation: How long can the government push clean and dirty energy at the same time? Banging on about oil and gas when you’re supposed to be talking about low-carbon energy is like talking about the wonders of lard when you’re meant to be getting people to eat more greens.
The Government brought out its long-awaited Industrial Strategy earlier this week – all 250 pages of it. It contained just one teeny tiny, rather apologetic, bit about shale gas, which we are told (again) has the “prospect” of “creating jobs”. Then it quickly goes on to talk about something else. Quite right too, because the chapter in which it sits is not supposed to be about fossil fuels, but “clean growth”!
This lumping together of dirty stuff with clean stuff can seem very odd. Ministers are quite capable of bringing out things like its recent, pretty decent Clean Growth Strategy, with lots of coherent stuff about the social and economic imperative to cut carbon and lots of ideas how to do so. Yet with a totally separate, apparently estranged, part of its brain, the Budget can merrily cut taxes for North Sea oil and gas drilling – again – and the Government can continue to sneak approving references to fracking into places where they simply do not belong.
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You’d think the cognitive dissonance would at least give Ministers a headache. Maybe it does. But comforting semantic gymnastics are at work. You see, the UK’s Climate Change Act only obliges the Government to think about energy used in the UK. We have a legal target to cut emissions from energy used by the UK economy by 80% on 1990 levels. Due to the way this was historically accounted for under the Kyoto Protocol, it doesn’t cover other emissions – like those caused by other countries making the things that go into the products that we import.
And nor does it extend to the stuff we wrench out of the ground. Ministers are on record [see Q54, for example] as seeing the two as totally separate: fossil fuels are global commodities, thus any oil and gas we extract just sloshes into global markets, having an indiscernible impact on whether it’s any cheaper to use oil and gas in the UK.
Cake both had and eaten: feel warm and happy with selves about burning less carbon within our borders, whilst deliberately keeping places like Aberdeen dangerously propped up by the oil and gas it flogs to the rest of the world. We meet the letter of our carbon targets, while merrily kicking the spirit in the teeth. So despite climate targets, the crusade for fracking from Westminster can continue – even as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland turn their backs on shale, choosing a more joined-up definition of what leadership on climate change really means.
In recent months however it’s seemed that even the Government has started to preach less loudly from its shale gas soapbox. As it should: the whole thing is desperately unpopular. The measly mention of shale in the industrial strategy smells like just the latest whiff of public retreat:
- Alongside its recent ‘Clean Growth Strategy’, the Government released new analysisadmitting that shale gas isn’t needed for Britain’s energy security – rather undermining its claims for years that it, er, is.
- Conservative backbenchers are increasingly rebelling on the issue, as local uproar grows among communities at risk.
- James Heappey – the Conservative MP tasked with looking afresh at the party’s energy policy – thinks that the case for shale is looking shakier all the time.
But it’s far too early to hammer nails into any coffins just yet. Not banging on about fracking is not the same thing as no longer being determined to force it through, particularly if the ‘love oil and gas’ bit of your brain is still alive and kicking. There have after all been years of tax break after community bribe after planning support thrown in the direction of the industry.
The sad reality is that after six years of stubborn resistance from local communities, the prospect of a UK fracking company actually doing some fracking has edged ever closer. Permission from the Government is expected any day now for test fracking at Kirby Misperton in Yorkshire. Perhaps the Government thinks it has done all it needs to do to bang the drum for the industry in public. Its yes or no for fracking at Kirby Misperton will be an acid test of whether the Government has cooled on fracking after all, and whether it is prepared to trample over local democracy to force rigs on communities that have flat out rejected them.
But even if that does happen, fury in the face of fracking isn’t going away. Around the country, ordinary homeowners, farmers, and residents will continue to say ‘no’ to the prospect of being fracked, and the strength of evidence and opposition marshalled will – rightly – persuade councils to reject the plans. (see attached letter below: Food and Water Europe to Rotherham Borough Council).
Outrage and condemnation has followed INEOS’s stark announcement a week ago that it thinks local councils are taking too long to process the sheer volume of local evidence and objection to their plans, and is asking the Government to bypass local decision making entirely. We wait to see what happens next, but residents of places like Eckington are set to redouble their campaigning efforts.
Deep-pocketed fracking companies will have to keep on trying to push their fight over the heads of those councils, because the only possible way they’ll get widespread permission for their plans is if the troublesome multitudes of local people who fear the changing of their lives forever are removed from the equation.
If the Government bows to INEOS’s bolshie demands, it wouldn’t just be an affront to the very concept of democracy. It would also be proof – in a decarbonising, climate-changing world, even as it talks big on a ‘clean’ industrial strategy – that it retains a very misguided sense of which horse to back.
Planning Application Number: RB2017/0805
Site Address: Land adjacent Common Road Harthill 9999
Applicant Name: INEOS Upstream Limited (via Turley Planning Consultancy)
Attempts of Ineos to bypass local decision.
Planning Regeneration and Cultural Services
Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council
Main Street, Rotherham S60 1AE
Dear Sir or Madam,
Dear Mr Wilkins, Dear Mr Read,
29 November 2017
In July 2017 we’ve filed a formal comment against the plans by the international chemical company Ineos to begin the process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in your region.
In those comments we explained in detail our reasoning against the proposed shale gas development in your Council District, pointing out that in order to properly and thoroughly evaluate Ineo’s application, the Council should consider the cumulative impacts of the project, including traffic, waste disposal and other impacts. Failure to do so means that this project is being looked at in a piecemeal fashion that fails to fully consider the anticipated impacts that will ensue with the granting of this application.
The unconventional fossil fuels industry, especially shale gas production, consumes space and resources on a large scale and has a massive detrimental impact on regional planning and development. That’s why we cannot debate the exploration and extraction of so-called unconventional fossil fuels without recognizing that these projects inevitably collide with the existing regional planning frame in the targeted areas.
Speaking in a parliamentary debate on November 22, 2017, Mr Lee Rowley, the Tory MP for North East Derbyshire – representing another site that Ineos has applied for the realisation of an exploration well – clearly pointed out that shale gas will bring wholesale industrialisation and change the countryside for decades. He added that Derbyshire doesn’t want the kind of industrialisation this would bring.
At a meeting on 18 October 2017, the Rotherham Borough Council voted to ban fracking and seismic testing on council-owned land.
Ineos is now obviously afraid that their arguments were not convincing and the company is looking to bypass local decisions on its fracking proposals. A draft press statement released to the public suggests that INEOS is asking the Planning Inspectorate to intervene on Marsh Lane and Harthill because no decision had been made by the local councils “in reasonable time periods.”
This latest attempt by Ineos to supress local decision-making is not surprising since the company is actively seeking to suppress all democratic opposition to its projects. As you are likely aware, Ineos recently went to court to obtain an injunction against peaceful displays of protest by concerned community members. The court injunction against „persons unknown“ is the same type of anti- democratic tactic that Ineos now looks to employ by attempting to bypass local decisions related to their applications.
Food & Water Watch and Food & Water Europe have pointed out that Ineos‘ push for more fracking on both sides of the Atlantic to produce more plastics harms communities in the US and will eventually pollute the oceans and UK’s shores. We’ve also recently examined Ineos’ environmental record, including government and media reports of its plants in the UK, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Norway and Sweden, and found that many of the facilities had accidents, safety lapses, chemical leaks, substantial pollutant releases and even fires and explosions. If this company is allowed to frack the UK, more pollution and more accidents are likely to follow.
The Council should approach the Planning Inspectorate and explain why
a) the potential social, community and health impacts of an unconventional oil and gas industry in the UK will be severe and irreversible,
b) Ineos, in particular, has proved irresponsible and isn’t capable of dealing with the risks and impacts and
c) the decisions about the applications of Ineos need to be decisions of the affected councils.
More importantly, however, for the reasons cited above, in addition to the other information provided in our prior submission to the Council, we urge the Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council to immediately reject Ineos’s application and protect your community from the harms that fracking will inevitably bring.
Andy Gheorghiu Scott Edwards
Fracking Policy Advisor Co-Director Food & Water Watch Justice