Government offers 'bribe' to councils to allow fracking

Fracking in progress in North Dakota, USA: soon to be a common sight in Britain? Photo: Joshua Doubek (commons.wikimedia.org).
Fracking in progress in North Dakota, USA: soon to be a common sight in Britain? Photo: Joshua Doubek (commons.wikimedia.org).
The RSPB has responded with concern to the announcement from David Cameron that councils will receive financial incentives to permit fracking in their areas.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister announced that councils that allowed fracking on their land would receive a cash incentive, by being allowed to collect and spend 100 per cent of business rates collected from fracking schemes, rather than the usual 50 per cent. In a time of austerity this has been widely seen as a bribe by environmentalists.

Mr Cameron argued on the BBC  website that Britain has the "strongest environmental controls ... Nothing would go ahead if there were environmental dangers ... Shale is important for our country. It could bring 74,000 jobs, over £3 billion of investment, give us cheaper energy for the future and increase our energy security. I want us to get on board this change that is doing so much good and bringing so much benefit to North America. I want us to benefit from it here as well."

Harry Huyton, the RSPB’s head of energy policy, said: “Today’s announcement that local councils are to receive millions in business rates for shale gas developments that are permitted in their area undermines promises to ensure fracking operations do not damage our countryside and its wildlife.

“Rather than being rewarded for protecting the natural environment, Councils are getting their bonuses for letting fracking take place.

“The Environment Agency, which regulates the shale gas industry in England, is already dealing with severe budget cuts and increasing demands on its flood defence resources, raising concerns that they may not be able to properly manage the environmental impacts of fracking.

“Last year the Prime Minister promised that the UK’s regulatory regime for fracking was one of the ‘one of the most stringent in the world’, yet the bodies responsible for delivering this regime are under growing pressure to give fracking the green light regardless of legitimate concerns about the risks posed to our countryside, wildlife and water resources.”

Fracking – or hydraulic fracturing – is a technique for extracting oil or gas from shale deposits by introducing water or other fluids mixed with sand and chemicals at high pressure to fracture the rocks. The gas or oil then flows towards a well along the minute fractures, where it can be harvested. The British Geological Survey has estimated that there may be up to 1,300 trillion cubic feet of shale gas under the ground in northern England.

The UK recently lifted a ban on the method, favouring regulation rather than complete prohibition in order to exploit the obvious short-term economic benefits of exploiting the substantial  resource of shale gas present in the country. However, it is with the technique itself that many environmentalists have a problem – there have been many documented cases of ground water being contaminated, air pollution, ground pollution from the surfacing of the chemicals used and the gas itself, mishandling of waste, and the attendant affect of all these on public health, including an increase in incidences of cancer. Add to this the long-term effect on global warming and the current administration's eagerness to ride rough-shod over environmental legislation, and the worries of conservationists are all too apparent.
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