Redacted fracking report criticised

Fracking fears Cuadrilla Resources plans to drill at two sites on the Fylde coast. Below ' Caroline Lucas MP
Fracking fears Cuadrilla Resources plans to drill at two sites on the Fylde coast. Below ' Caroline Lucas MP
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Ministers were accused of having “something to hide” over the impact of fracking on affected areas after an internal Government document was released in a heavily redacted form.

Green MP Caroline Lucas said the Government should be “straight with the British public” about the impact of the controversial process for extracting shale gas.

The row over the document came as a survey commissioned by the onshore oil and gas industry body showed widespread support for exploiting shale reserves.

The official analysis - titled Shale Gas: Rural Economy Impacts - had several key sections obscured when it was published in response to a request under environmental information laws.

Assessments of the impacts on house prices and local services were heavily redacted in the draft report published under the Environmental Information Regulations.

Ms Lucas called for the report to be published in full and said: “What I’m concerned about is it looks as if the Government has got something to hide.

“This is a report that purports to be about looking at the impacts of shale gas exploitation on rural economies and yet huge amounts of it have been redcated.

“Were it not so serious, it would almost be comical”.

She said it “adds to the atmosphere of public concern and mistrust” about the effects of the controversial process for extracting shale gas.

The draft internal document was shared by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) with the Environment Agency and considered the potential impact of shale gas development on the rural economy.

The report refers to 2010 findings about the situation in Texas which indicated that properties worth more than 250,000 US dollars (£149,000) located within 1,000 feet of a well saw their values fall by between 3% and 14%.

Findings from a study of property prices near sour gas wells and flaring oil batteries in Alberta, Canada, found a reduction in house prices of between 4% to 7% within 2.5 miles of the wells, although this “may not be comparable in a UK context”.

A study of properties near a well pad in Pittsburgh, USA, found a 5.6% reduction in house prices within a mile of the gas wells but “impacts relate to houses dependent on well water which may not be comparable to a UK”, the Defra analysis said.

A 2012 study of properties in Pennsylvania, USA, found a price rise in homes near a well if the house had a commercially piped water supply, but there is not enough data to “disentangle positive impacts” such as lease payments to homeowners living near wells and higher rental prices from the negative impacts such as noise and pollution.

The document indicates that three further paragraphs about the impact on property prices had been redacted.

There were similar cuts made to the published form of the document in its discussion about the impact on local services.

But a Government spokeswoman said: “There is no evidence that house prices have been affected in over half a century of oil and gas exploration in the UK or evidence that this would be the case with shale.

“This Government believes that shale has a positive part to play in our future energy mix, providing energy security, driving growth and creating jobs.”

Ms Lucas’s criticism came as a poll commissioned by UK Onshore Oil and Gas (UKOOG) found production from shale enjoys widespread backing across the country, with more than three times as many supporting production as opposing.

There is overwhelming support for reducing Britain’s reliance on gas imports from overseas, the study found.

The Populus survey of 4,000 adults found that 57% of people support the production of natural gas from shale in the UK, compared with 16% who oppose and 27% who are undecided.

More than two-thirds (67%) agree that Britain needs to produce its own energy so it is not reliant on gas from other countries, compared with just 1% who disagree.

Nearly three-fifths (59%) would be willing to see natural gas from shale production go ahead as long as it forms part of a mix that includes renewable energy sources, with only 12% disagreeing.

Ken Cronin, chief executive of UKOOG, said: “This survey shows that most people across the country think that shale gas should be developed. More than four out of five of us heat our homes with gas, and Britain’s shale resource gives us the opportunity to become less dependent on foreign energy supplies, create tens of thousands of jobs and support our manufacturing industries.

“Shale gas and renewables are complementary, and our survey confirms that the public would like to see a balanced mix that includes both sources of energy. Whilst these results are positive, our industry needs to continue to do all it can to listen to and engage with the views of local communities.”

But a Greenpeace spokesman said: “Surely it’s no coincidence that the only survey out there showing this level of public support for fracking has been commissioned by the industry lobby. All independent polls show less than half of Britain backs shale drilling.

“This is just more smoke and mirrors to hide the obvious fact that fracking remains a highly controversial industry, far less popular than clean and safe alternatives like wind and solar.”

* Populus interviewed 4,086 adults in Great Britain online between June 13 and 19.