Leaked letter shows Govt & industry working ‘hand-in-glove’ to push fracking
A leaked letter, obtained by Friends of the Earth, from Chancellor George Osborne to Cabinet colleagues reveals how closely the Government is working with the shale gas industry to ensure that controversial fracking takes off in the UK.
The letter, sent to members of the Cabinet’s highly secret and top-level Economic Affairs Committee in September 2014, reveals the Government’s plans responding to ‘asks from Cuadrilla’, for ‘reducing risks and delays to drilling’, fast-tracking planning appeals, and working hand-in-glove with industry to identify, ‘sites in less contentious locations’ where fracking could be pursued. The Government’s commitment to ‘going all out for shale’ is laid bare in a passage stating its desire to see ‘3-4 exemplar drilling sites to prove the concept of safe shale gas exploration’.
The letter reveals the Government’s detailed contingency plans should Cuadrilla’s applications be turned down. Under the heading ‘Be prepared for risk that permission is turned down or progress injuncted’, the document suggests that Government, ‘consider whether to provide additional technical support to Lancashire’. It goes on to recommend that Cuadrilla ‘respond to concerns and appeal asap’ and that the Government will then fast-track this appeal: ‘Prepare PINS [the government planning inspectorate] to respond promptly to appeal’.
Friends of the Earth Energy Campaigner Tony Bosworth, who obtained the letter, said:
“This letter shows Government and industry working hand-in-glove to try anything to make fracking happen.
“Councillors in Lancashire will be shocked that the Government is plotting with Cuadrilla how to make sure that they can frack in Lancashire even if their applications are rejected this week.
“Such Government collusion with a highly unpopular industry will just make fracking an even more politically toxic issue.
“Rather than push ahead with foisting fracking on local communities, the Government should follow countries and states around the world and call a halt. Fracking isn’t the answer to our energy problems – it won’t help us tackle climate change and it brings big risks for health and the local environment.”
The revelations come on the day that the influential Environmental Audit Committee has called on the Coalition Government to introduce a moratorium on fracking. It is also the day in which MPs will get to vote on fracking for the first and only time in this Parliament. A large rally has been organised for outside Parliament this afternoon, at which speakers and supporters will call for MPs to vote for a moratorium. Later this week Lancashire County Council will decide whether to grant planning permission for two shale gas drilling applications by Cuadrilla. The council’s planning officers have recommended that Cuadrilla’s applications are refused.
Another section of the letter shows the Government’s ambitions to, ‘develop a coherent national communications plan on shale explorations’. In a passage that raises questions about the scale of the Government’s attempts to manipulate public debate about the controversial shale gas industry, the letter recommends mobilising an, ‘existing network of neutral academic experts available to provide credible evidence-based views’ and ‘establish which messages resonate with the general population and focus on building these into a core narrative’. In the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement last December, £5 million was set aside for a ‘fund to provide independent advice directly to the public about the robustness of the existing regulatory regime’ for fracking.
Other parts of the letter detail the Government’s plans to:
• Boost council planning capacity through ‘funding consultancy’ and ‘supporting secondments’;
• Set up a Government and industry working group to ‘assess the value and viability of focusing on a small number of sites in less contentious locations that have potential for viable production’
• Explore the use of public land, particularly that owned by the MoD, for ‘possible concept testing’ of fracking wells.
Notes to Editors
1. George Osborne’s letter to the Economic Affairs Committee can be seen here.
2. The Environmental Audit Committee’s report today warns that only a very small fraction of our shale reserves can be safely burned if we are to keep global temperatures below 2 degrees. And that considerable uncertainties remain about the hazards fracking poses to groundwater quality, air quality, health and biodiversity. It points out that continually tightening carbon budgets under the Climate Change Act will have significantly curtailed the scope for fossil fuel energy by the time shale gas is likely to be commercially viable on a large scale. The report can be seen here.
3.For details of the Chancellor’s last Autumn Statement and the £5 million for fracking research see p.38 here.
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Published by Friends of the Earth Trust