SIR BERNARD Ingham’s pro-fracking diatribe in The Yorkshire Post last month was outspoken and entertaining. But it –is also utterly wrong.
The overriding impression is of someone who is simply out of touch. Opposition to the controversial process isn’t from a “ragbag of so-called environmentalists” and “a bunch of monumental hypocrites” as Sir Bernard claims, it’s from local people, many of whom have never campaigned on anything before. This opposition is springing up wherever fracking is proposed, and it is well-founded.
People in Ryedale and elsewhere are concerned about the risks of fracking to their health. After a three-year study, New York State banned fracking late last year because of health concerns. The State Health Commissioner, Dr Howard Zucker, commented: “Would I let my child play in a school field nearby? After looking at the plethora of reports, my answer would be no.”
It’s not “hypocritical” to be concerned about the impact of fracking on rural areas and rural businesses. A report for the Department of the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) that the Government tried to keep quiet but was eventually forced to release, concluded that “shale gas development may transform a previously pristine and quiet natural region, bringing increased industrialisation” and “rural community businesses … may suffer losses from this change such as agriculture, tourism, organic farming, hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation”.
Nor does it make you “aesthetically dead” if you are concerned about the impact on the value of your home. The Defra report showed that house prices near drilling sites could fall by up to seven per cent and that insurance costs for people living up to five miles away could increase because of the risk of explosions.
People are also infuriated at the Government’s underhand attempts to force fracking through, whatever the cost. George Osborne has been revealed to be working with the frackers to help make fracking happen and the Government recently announced plans to fast-track planning applications. And when new licences for exploration were given out a couple of weeks ago, all of the sites were in the North of England. Hardly ‘all in it together’.
Sir Bernard seems to have swallowed the claims of the fracking industry and its supporters hook, line and sinker. But so much of this is simply hype.
The Prime Minister claims that fracking will cut energy bills. But most experts disagree, including Lord Browne, former chairman of fracking company Cuadrilla, and world-renowned energy economist Lord Sterne, who said Mr Cameron’s claims were baseless.
Supporters claim fracking will create a huge number of jobs. But experience from the US, where they have been fracking for a decade or so, shows these claims are often overstated and that the jobs peter out quickly.
Cuadrilla’s fracking test sites, rejected a couple of months ago by Lancashire County Council, would have created just 11 short-term jobs each. Investing in renewable energy and energy saving creates three times as many jobs for the same investment.
The industry paints threatening pictures of the lights going out or President Putin holding us to ransom over gas supplies and says we need to get fracking to keep our energy supplies secure. But even if we did get fracking, Government forecasts show that our gas imports will be about the same in 2030 as they are now. Saving energy and developing renewables could cut gas imports by up to a third by 2030.
But the key reason to oppose fracking is climate change. Global fossil fuel reserves are already four times as much as we can afford to burn if we want to avoid the worst impacts of catastrophic climate change. We have to get off fossil fuels as quickly as possible, so causing disruption and investing billions of pounds trying to find more is crazy.
Sir Bernard’s loathing for onshore wind may be shared by some Tory backbenchers, but not by the population at large.
The Government’s own opinion polls repeatedly show huge support for onshore wind. And the great majority of people would prefer a wind turbine near their home rather than a fracking rig.
Fracking isn’t the answer to the UK’s energy problems. Keeping shale gas and oil in the ground, and developing an energy system based around energy saving and renewables, would bring a multiple win for the UK: Better for peoples’ health; better for their local area and communities, better for energy security, better for energy bills, better for jobs, better for the economy and better for the climate.
That’s what local people in Ryedale and across the UK are fighting for.
Tony Bosworth is an energy campaigner with Friends of the Earth.