It's been a devastating week for the shale gas movement, from anti-fracking protests near Blackpool to damaging polls and censored government reports.
Over a thousand anti-fracking protesters are setting up camp this weekend on a proposed exploration site for shale gas near Blackpool. The “Reclaim the Power” group are supporting “Lancashire residents who are taking action against fracking”, and will host a number of workshops to inform campaigners on environmental, economical and social issues.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a controversial process of drilling deep below the earth’s surface and smashing out shale gas with chemically-infused water at high pressure. The government argues that fracking will lead to an abundance of natural gas, boosting the economy, providing energy security and creating thousands of jobs. Green groups, however, argue that there are a number of environmentally damaging problems associated with fracking, from contamination of groundwater and the displacement of certain species to the production of harmful air pollutants and earth tremors.
This week, UK government’s plans to offer automatic access rights to energy companies to drill in residential areas below 300 metres face fresh opposition. The Scottish energy minister, Fergus Ewing, slammed the “gung-ho” proposals to relax landowner regulations, arguing that the decision on such an issue should be with Holyrood and not Westminster. Ewing accused the Westminster government of removing the rights of Scottish householders and failing to consult with the Scottish government on the plans.
A poll commissioned by the UK Onshore Oil and Gas Association (UKOOG) on Monday found that 57 per cent believe that the UK should exploit shale gas reserves. However, the poll immediately attracted criticism from environment groups as it was reported that respondents were informed of the benefits of shale gas just before asking a particularly leading question: “From what you know, do you think the UK should produce natural gas from shale?” A government poll, published only a few days later, revealed that 24% of the public are in favour of the process - a startling contrast.
And just to add further fuel to the fire, the government has released a heavily censored report on the economic, social and environmental impacts of fracking. The report “Shale Gas: Rural Economy Impacts”, which was published by the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, admits that a large number of rural communities may be affected by the expansion of shale gas activities. However, due to a large number of redactions – nearly every passage seems to have the word “redacted” plastered somewhere and a couple of pages are almost blank - the report fails to explain why. Such a report has inevitably led to further scrutiny of whether the government is suppressing evidence to prevent any harm coming to its pro-fracking campaign. The fact that a great chunk of a section on the impact of extraction of shale gas on house prices and local services has been concealed raises alarm bells. Greenpeace has added its own view, arguing that the consultation has failed “the most basic requirement” by not being “straightforward with the public by giving them the full facts.”
Unfortunately, misinformation and sensationalism have blighted the fracking debate since onshore shale gas wells proposals were introduced in the UK in 2007, leaving the public confused and fed up. With the impacts of fracking potentially devastating to local areas and the environment, it is simply not sensible or fair for the government to be releasing censored reports or the shale gas industry to be producing questionable polls. With renewable energies proving to be a popular choice among the masses and doubts over the economic potential of fracking growing, the government and the shale gas industry should start placing more emphasis on transparency and engagement if they hope to ever achieve common ground on the issue of shale gas exploration with local communities.