JUST what is going on with the UK energy policy?
Confusion reigns in the corridors of power with contradiction at every turn on the UK’s energy needs.
Recent reports released on the UK’s future in clean energy, climate change and also the Northern Energy Strategy have flagged the critical need to urgently prioritise low-carbon energy generation and the climate change obligations that the UK must meet by 2030, and essentially.
Yet, tellingly, only one of the reports mentions the fracking industry. Indeed, the report where fracking is discussed briefly mentions it in a minimised capacity and doesn’t include it in UK future energy projections.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy released their Gas Security and Supply report, with a strategic analysis on outline energy projections for the coming years. The Government indicated that shale gas is not needed for energy security and did not include it as a contribution to energy production figures for the UK.
The Clean Growth Strategy was also released this week, with positive talk from the UK government of a low-carbon future for the UK, substituting natural gas with low-carbon gases like biogas and hydrogen.
Theresa May stated in the report: “Clean growth is not an option, but a duty we owe to the next generation, and economic growth has to go hand-in-hand with greater protection for our forests and beaches, clean air and places of outstanding natural beauty.”
The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) released their Northern Energy Strategy this week, stating: “Shale gas has garnered significant opposition from local communities and may be too environmentally risky to proceed with.”
That all sounds very encouraging... doesn’t it?
But the Government is still talking about introducing new fracking proposals, as confirmed by Mrs May at Prime Minister’s Questions last month, when she told MPs: “I think that shale gas has the potential to power economic growth in this country and to support thousands of jobs in the oil and gas industries and in other sectors. It will provide a new domestic energy source.
“We have more than 50 years’ drilling experience in the UK, and one of the best records in the world for economic development while protecting our environment. This is an important potential new source of energy, and it is right that we should use it and take the benefits from it for our economy, for jobs and for people’s futures.”
Not only would these proposals commit the UK to fossil fuels for decades to come, jeopardising our legally binding commitments to the Paris accord, but they also drive drilling rigs through local democracy. Communities will lose their right to say no to vast areas of the UK being turned into an industrialised gas field, in what can only be described as an attack on local democracy that will bring fracking by dictatorship.
Drilling can have major local impacts, including traffic, landscape impacts, noise and the generation of large amounts of mining waste. Bringing it within permitted development would mean no planning application, no environmental impact assessment in most cases and no voice for local people.
Opinion polling in the UK has consistently shown a majority opposed to fracking. A recent opinion poll for Friends of the Earth surveying the views of residents of Lancashire, where Cuadrilla is hoping to frack in the near future, found that 66 per cent of residents opposed the move, with 46 per cent strongly opposed. This was also unpopular among Conservative voters, with 45 per cent opposed and 30 per cent supportive.
The most recent Government poll shows a record low of just 13 per cent of people in favour of fracking. Over 99 per cent of those responding to the Scottish Government’s consultation were opposed to fracking. This should give the UK government pause for thought, particularly in light of the 2017 Conservative manifesto commitment to develop the shale industry only “if we maintain public confidence in the process”.
Removing local scrutiny would run counter to the Government’s stated commitment to localism. As the Business and Energy Secretary Greg Clark MP told local councils when he was Communities Secretary: “Don’t let yourself, any longer, be ruled by someone else.”
But, by taking away the power of a local council to decide, this is precisely what the Government would be doing.
It’s about time the brain kicked in at Westminster and the Government made a sensible decision to take the UK to the forefront of clean energy generation.
We don’t want to be the ‘dirty man of Europe’; it’s time to drop this obsession with fracking for a fossil fuel future and adopt a vision for Britain – clean, green and carbon free.
Steve Mason is director of Frack Free United.