Government bribes northern councils to accept fracking

The British ruling class are attempting to improve energy security in a world increasingly characterised by conflicts over energy and other resources. Once again the government is attempting to bribe local communities in the north of England into accepting hydraulic fracturing, the highly unpopular and environmentally damaging gas extraction method commonly known as fracking.

The government has outlined plans for the north to become Britain's: ‘Northern Powerhouse’. On 8 November, George Osborne proposed the introduction of a sovereign wealth fund, which he claimed would allow communities in areas in which fracking occurs to directly benefit from the profits. This bribe is a smack in the face for the communities in question. Many have never recovered from the devastation caused by the closure of industry under Margaret Thatcher’s government, worsened by years of savage council cuts. Now the ruling class is attempting to further capitalise on austerity with this pay off. A further insult came in the form of Osborne's comments that the fund would be a way of 'making sure [fracking] money is not squandered on day-to-day spending'. This is in a region where local councils are cutting their budgets for essential services by up to one third.

Hot on the heels of Osborne's announcement of the Wealth Sovereignty Fund, the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) released a report stating that government claims of the benefits of fracking have been 'overhyped'. One of the report’s authors, Jim Watson, Professor of Energy Policy at the University of Sussex, told the Guardian: ‘Looking at the evidence base it is very hard to support some of the statements made by both the industry and some politicians that it’s going to bring down prices, strengthen energy security or create jobs through cheaper energy anytime soon’ (11 November). If the suggested benefits lie far in the future, then claims that the government is serious about tackling the production of greenhouse gases and climate change are exposed as lies.

One of the main reasons that fracking is unpopular is its potential for causing earthquakes or contaminating water supplies. The process of extraction involves using high-pressure water mixed with a cocktail of chemicals to fracture underground shale rock in order to release the gas. Exploratory drilling is believed to have been the cause of tremors at Weeton, near Blackpool, and numerous incidents have occurred in the US where fracking is already carried out. On the 13 November a fracking site worker was killed and two others were seriously injured at a Colorado site when a frozen high pressure water pipe they were attempting to thaw ruptured. The workers were employees of the US oil giant Halliburton.

A dubious ‘independent’ task force has been established to investigate the safety of fracking in Britain. It is funded by the industry itself and is being led by former Environment Agency (EA) Chairman and former Labour cabinet minister Lord Chris Smith. Smith has previously announced his support for fracking and in his previous post at the EA he even stated that he would not rule out fracking in national parks. The other two panel members are Patience Wheatcroft, a Conservative member of the House of Lords who has worked for Barclays, the Sunday Times and the Telegraph, and Professor Ernest Rutter, a geologist at the University of Manchester.

Britain's leading fracking company is Cuadrilla Resources, whose chairman is House of Lords crossbencher Edmund ‘John’ Browne. He owns a large stake in the company through his co-ownership of Riverstone Holdings LLC, a private equity firm which has a 42% stake. Browne was the Chief Executive of British Petroleum (BP) from 1995-2007 during which time he was also a Non-Executive Director for several multinational companies including US banking giant Goldman Sachs. Cuadrilla currently has ten licences for fracking in Britain.

In November the government announced the creation of the National College for Onshore Oil and Gas at Blackpool and Fylde College, intended as a hub to create a new fracking industry. This is a shameless act given the earth tremors that fracking has caused in the area. The centre will have links to other colleges in Cleveland and Redcar, Chester, Glasgow and Portsmouth.

As FRFI reported in February 2014: ‘Fracking is an example of the imperialist system becoming more and more desperate as it searches out new sources of energy and profit in an already depleted and polluted world’. As a result the British ruling class are hell-bent on pushing forward with environmentally dangerous energy sources such as fracking as their chief sources of fuel. Only sustained resistance to a greedy and desperate ruling class can mean that interests of the environment and working class people are put before profits.

Cal Shaw


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