The New Worker
The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain
Week commencing 26th July 2013
CHANCELLOR George Osborne has gone fracking mad. He has decided that the future of British energy supplies lies in promoting fracking, to extract shale gas from under the country, while discouraging the development of renewable sources of energy like wind farms.
Last week he decided to encourage fracking companies to come to Britain by halving the tax they are liable to pay on profits while at the same time removing from local authorities any rights to object to fracking operations in their area.
For over a year now Osborne has been pushing to make Britain a worldwide hub for fossil fuels, possibly influenced by his father-in-law, Lord Howell of Guildford, who is the head of a lobbying organisation for big oil and gas companies.
Lord Howell is an energy minister at the Foreign Office, is also the president of the British Institute of Energy Economics (BIEE), which is sponsored by Shell and BP — prompting suggestions of a conflict of interest.
A week ago Osborne, whose own Tatton constituency is home to major reserves, announced that onshore shale gas producers will pay a 30 per cent tax rate compared to 62 per cent paid by on North Sea oil operations.
A few days later the Government published new planning guidelines under which councils will no longer be able to investigate issues such as seismic activity, flaring and venting as well as the potential impact on ground water supplies before granting planning permission for new wells.
Instead the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the Environment Agency and the Health and Safety Executive will take responsibility for regulation.
It is claimed the new guidelines — which will not be consulted on — will remove local authorities’ right to make decisions independent of central Government energy policy.
Opponents say the new regime unveiled by the Department for Communities and Local Government will create a presumption in favour of fracking and against protest groups in contrast to the guidelines governing wind farms.
There are serious concerns for public health as the process of fracking — pumping water, sand and chemicals deep into layers of gas-bearing rock to crack the rock and release the gas — can cause earthquakes and release methane gas into water supplies.
In addition the gas released by fracking is a fossil fuel and its use will speed up global climate change.
Fracking operations around Blackpool were halted in 2011 after two small earthquakes. The Government eventually gave the go-ahead for operations to resume in 2012.
Earlier this month Cuadrilla, the energy company which is leading operations to drill for shale gas in Lancashire, said it hoped to drill nine new wells. Two thirds of England’s land surface is said to cover shale-gas-bearing rock, the south Midlands and Surrey are said to be particularly rich in this resource. That puts them right in the heart of rural Tory constituencies and Osborne’s plans could be political suicide for his party.
John Hobson of Defend Lytham, which is opposing the development of the fracking industry around Blackpool in Lancashire, said decision making was being removed from local people by stripping Lancashire County Council of key functions in its role as the minerals planning authority.
“In the absence of any specific regulations for unconventional onshore exploration and production, with the regulatory bodies having little experience and no funding to make them capable of implementing and monitoring regulation, never mind giving detail consideration to planning applications, this is a recipe for disaster,” he said.
Friends of the Earth energy campaigner Tony Bosworth said: “These short-sighted planning guidelines highlight the Government’s blinkered obsession with fossil fuels, regardless of the damaging impacts on local people and the environment. It’s outrageous that they aren’t being put out to public consultation.
“Shale gas extraction could wreck communities’ quality of life and will mean more climate-changing pollution being pumped into our atmosphere and despite all the hype, there’s plenty of evidence that it won’t lead to cheaper fuel bills.”
Greenpeace energy campaigner Lawrence Carter said: “The Chancellor is telling anyone who will listen that UK shale gas is set to be an economic miracle, yet he’s had to offer the industry sweetheart tax deals just to reassure them that fracking would be profitable.
“Experts from energy regulator Ofgem to Deutsche Bank and the company in receipt of this tax break, Cuadrilla, admit that it won’t reduce energy prices for consumers.
“Instead we’re likely to see the industrialisation of tracts of the British countryside, gas flaring in the Home Counties and a steady stream of trucks carrying contaminated water down rural lanes.”