Government threatening councils over fracking

Following large scale public opposition to planned fracking - the extraction of shale gas by hydraulic fracturing - at two sites in Lancashire at the start of the year, approved by the Environment Agency, Lancashire County Council rejected planning permission in June. The council was responsible for giving the final stage of approval required for Cuadrilla, Britain’s biggest fracking firm, to begin mining at the sites of Roseacre Wood and Preston New Road. These would be the first commercial fracking projects in Britain. As was to be expected, Cuadrilla immediately launched an appeal, showing complete disregard for public opinion. The appeal process is expected to take at least 16 months.

The government’s response to Lancashire County Council's decision was to announce that if councils take longer than 16 weeks to deliberate over fracking applications, then the government will strip them of their right to judge applications. In these situations, the Communities Minister, Greg Clarke, will intervene and make the decision instead. This is the same Greg Clarke who on 18 June said 'While onshore wind [power] now makes a meaningful contribution to our energy mix, [wind turbines] are often imposed upon communities without consultation or public support. From today new planning rules change that and mean wind turbines should only get the go-ahead if they have been clearly backed by local people in a Local or Neighbourhood Plan.Any application to build wind turbines will then need to have the clear backing of the community – with any planning concerns clearly addressed.’ It seems Clarke’s care for the views of communities goes out the window when these views get in the way of the government’s real energy agenda - the rapid advancement of the fracking industry. However the government is not advancing fracking rapidly enough for Labour’s Lord Chris Smith the former Environment Agency Chairman and the current chairman of an ‘independent’ industry funded taskforce. The Guardian reported Lord Smith as saying ‘the government needs to get a move on’ and the ‘I don’t think the reason for the slowness lies in problems with the technology. It is a lack of political will.’ (16 September 2015).

Powerful figures in the House of Lords have direct vested interest in elements of the fracking industry. The most infamous is Lord Edmund ‘John’ Brown the director of Cuadrilla. Alongside Brown, there is also Lord Stephen Green, a non-executive director of German chemical giant BASF which produces chemicals used for fracking and Baroness Sarah Hogg, a non-executive of BG Group who are heavily invested in the booming fracking industry in the US. BG Group also holds a stake in Scottish fracking company Dart Energy - a Coal Bed Methane extraction company which use fracking among other extraction. Finally, there is Lord Howell, who works for the British Institute for Energy Economics, an oil and gas lobbying group, and is also George Osborne’s father in-law. Natural Resources Investment - a subsidiary of Barclays Bank - owns 97 percent of the fracking company Third Energy, while HSBC is providing financial services to both Cuadrilla and Dart Energy.

The ruling class’s riches are fully interwoven in environmentally destructive industries such as fracking. However, the continuing effect of low oil prices threatens investment in fracking. A report published on 21 September revealed that $1.5 trillion of potential investment globally is under threat as it does not offer sufficient return for investors (Financial Times). Capital investment is returning to traditional fossil fuel extraction. One way or another, the ruling class will push ahead with short sighted profit-making at the expense of the environment, instead of investing in the longer term development of renewable sources. Socialism, free from profiteering parasites is needed to protect the planet.

Cal Shaw


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