UK government fires starting gun on ‘reckless race for shale’

‘reckless race for shale’

The UK government has announced a new round of licensing for fracking. Creative Commons: Nicholas Shore, 2013

Large swathes of the UK are to be opened up to fracking in what has been described as a Large swathes of the UK are to be opened up to fracking in what has been described as a ‘reckless race for shale’.

In the government’s latest attempt to kick start shale exploration it is today inviting energy companies to bid for new drilling licences, which could lead to a huge expansion of the controversial industry.

Flying in the face of campaigners’ calls for the government to “draw a line” and leave “shale gas in the ground,” the new licensing round will open up half of the country to drilling.

While not ruling out fracking in protected areas, in an attempt to quell opposition the government has promised that drilling will only take place in national parks, areas of natural outstanding beauty and world heritage sites under “exceptional circumstances” and if deemed in the “public interest”.

Caroline Lucas, the Green party MP for Brighton said:

If this still leaves the door open to fracking in national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty, it completely undermines the protective status that those areas have been given and renders it meaningless. Many campaigners have campaigned for decades to get national park status, and they are given for a reason. The idea that they could be offered up to the fracking firms is a scandal.

These weak attempts to quash concerns over fracking in protected areas are unlikely to “quell the disquiet of fracking opponents”.

Louise Hutchins, an energy campaigner, Greenpeace said:

 Eric Pickles’ supposed veto power over drilling in national parks will do nothing to quell the disquiet of fracking opponents across Britain. The only people who stand to benefit from shale drilling are the bosses of a few inexperienced energy companies, which have yet to prove they can operate safely, while local communities will bear the full brunt of the disruption and potential environmental damage.

Concerns over the environmental, healthwater contamination and earthquake risks of fracking have triggered strong opposition in communities across the country.

From Sussex in the south, to Manchester to Blackpool in the north, citizens are joining together to oppose fracking.

Wisborough Green in West Sussex last week became the first village to successfully fight off the controversial process.

Friends of the Earth energy campaigner Tony Bosworth said:

The Government’s desperate obsession with shale gas will continue to send shock waves across the UK, with millions of people now facing the prospect of fracking on their doorstep. The benefits of UK shale gas have been seriously over-blown, and most experts agree that it won’t cut fuel bills. Fracking is not the answer to our energy problems. If we want to boost energy security, tackle rising fuel prices and cut carbon we should be investing in efficiency and renewable power.

And with research highlighting that potential methane leakages from shale drilling could make the process even more polluting than dirty coal, the UK is in real danger of being locked into a fossil-fuelled future and of being left lagging behind in the global race for renewables.

Today’s announcement also comes hot-on-the-heels of approval by the European Commission for the UK’s plans to provide payments to help old, dirty coal plants stay online.

With strong examples of the potential of renewables across Europe and within the UK, and increasing support for clean energy among voters, NGOs are warning that the government is wrong to pursue fracking when it could be positioning itself as a “leader in renewables”.

Mary Church, Head of Campaigns at Friends of the Earth Scotland said:

Climate science tells us we must rapidly move away from oil and gas towards a clean, renewable energy future if we are to avoid a catastrophic global temperature rise. In this context it is utterly irresponsible to open up a new frontier of dirty fossil fuels.

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