Energy prices rose by around 150 per cent over the same 10 years. Many vulnerable people are having to choose between heating and eating according to a briefing paper for MPs on excess winter deaths by Age UK.
Rural poverty is now of particular concern due to declining numbers of countryside businesses, with the loss of employment prospects, the inevitable migration of young people to larger towns and cities and the increased unaffordability of housing, as stated in the recent Prince’s Countryside Fund Recharging Rural report.
Our dying rural economy is crying out to be resuscitated by fracking. The shale gas kiss of life would bring investment, jobs and money into host communities.
Local newspaper headlines cry out for investment into the Northern economy on an almost daily basis and the elephant in the room is shale gas.
We are sitting on potentially huge gas reserves which could be life-transforming in a positive way, not only for rural inhabitants but also for supply chain and manufacturing businesses.
The problem is people are frequently anti-development. We need to be anti-pollution, not anti-development.
Are rural communities to be denied the opportunity to improve their living standards because others, many of whom are wealthy by comparison, wish to ignore their poverty? It is easy to be anti-anything if you are not the one struggling to pay your bills and just survive.
We are predicted to be importing 75 per cent of our gas requirements by 2030. While the opponents of shale gas claim they are saving the environment, they are not. Imports have a carbon footprint 10 per cent higher than producing our own gas. To be increasingly dependent on imports from dubious regimes gifts foreign powers control of our supply and of its cost.
We are spending billions of pounds to import gas which can be produced from one mile under our feet. Imports do not help the environment, rural deprivation or fuel poverty. Imported gas contributes absolutely nothing to our Government’s coffers. The Government only has the tax revenues we pay to fund our NHS and the public services we all expect and yes, every one of us benefits from those.
A successful shale gas industry will pay tax, and crucially, the gas companies must not be allowed to ‘off-shore’ their tax liabilities. Tax revenues will also come from the supply chain and people employed in the industry.
The excellent news is that local communities do benefit, as now proven over in Lancashire. Cuadrilla has constructed a shale gas well pad and drilled two wells. Their ‘commitments tracker’ reveals that they have spent over £10m with suppliers and their contractors in Lancashire.
Cuadrilla has created 24 full-time jobs and 40 contractors’ jobs, all based in Lancashire, plus seven apprenticeships or internships. There has been £200,000 in local community benefits, £100,000 per well that will be hydraulically fractured and, in addition, they will gain £20,000 per lateral well. They have given £235,000 in community sponsorship and donations. These figures are independently verified so cannot be accused of being industry spin. Host communities are clearly benefitting.
All the other operators have committed to use local companies in the supply chain where possible and will pay £100,000 per exploration well site to the community, plus one per cent of production gross revenue during the production stage. This is before the operator has accounted for their costs.
The Government has also announced a ‘shale gas wealth fund’ and indicated that this may provide up to £10m for each local community. It will be up to the communities to decide where the money should go. This could include being paid directly to local residents in host areas.
One hundred per cent of the business rates will be retained by local authorities instead of going to central government.
This brings us back to the issue of fuel poverty. How can people improve their finances in rural areas without development of some kind? In Ryedale, we already know gas well sites are inconspicuous once in production.
This is from the State of the Nation Report 2017: “London and its hinterland are increasingly looking like a different country from the rest of Britain. They are moving ahead, as are many of our country’s great cities. But too many rural and coastal areas and the towns of Britain’s old industrial heartlands are being left behind.”
Left behind? No, we should be helping rural communities to flourish and grow and, in the process, work towards ending rural and fuel poverty. The community payments could fund small shops, bus services and energy efficiency measures and heating for the vulnerable.
No other industry offers the huge benefits that the shale gas industry is doing and we should grasp this extraordinary opportunity with both hands.
Lorraine Allanson runs a B&B in Ryedale. She is a supporter of fracking.