Fracking, Windmills, Boris and Shattered Idylls

Guest Blog post by Andrew Wallwork

“Shale gas may herald significant investment, but it should benefit…communities first and foremost.”

It is interesting to look at the UK Government attitudes towards its’ constituent voters in light of the recent proclamations about shale gas reserves and renewable energy.

The Daily Mail recently reported (1) that the Conservatives have vowed to “take a tougher line on wind farms”, and recently announced plans to give communities a powerful ‘veto’ over controversial new onshore developments. It seems that these renewable energy schemes will have to gain the consent of local residents’ before a planning application can even be made, which effectively hands them the power to prevent turbines being erected. The planning regulations will also be amended so that the drive for renewable energy can no longer be used as a reason for overriding environmental and other concerns.

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson has stated that plans for wind farms will have to take into account the “impact on the countryside and views”, as well as the desire to save the planet.

Compare and contrast this attitude towards renewable energy, with the UK Government’s leap into bed with the fracking industry, led by George Osborne’s “Dash for Gas”. It seems that these unconventional gas schemes will NOT have to gain the same consent of local residents’ that wind farms face.

The UK Government has instead announced tax breaks and introduced “fast-tracked permits” for shale gas exploration, with a sop of “protection offered for communities affected” – apparently each “local community” is to receive at least £100,000 in benefits for each well, and royalty payments of no less than 1 per cent of the overall revenues “at production stage”, allocated approximately 2/3rd to the local community and 1/3rd at the county level (source: UKOOG Community Engagement Charter).

Based on experiences in the United States, we should take these promises from the fracking industry of jam tomorrow, with a shovelful of scepticism. Website WFFFA reported (2) that Ed White, an Oklahoma oil and gas attorney, has stated that holding back royalty payments is a widespread practice in the natural gas industry, especially when profits are depressed. “There’s always a substantial driver to skim, and even to cheat,” White said. “Some companies want more money. But when you are so cash strapped that you are almost collapsing, that driver becomes much more crucial.”

And that couldn’t happen here in the UK? With it’s “world-class” regulatory system?

The Guardian reported this week (3) that London Mayor Boris Johnson has great enthusiasm to “frack the streets of London to keep the lights on”, and according to some estimates, the so-called influential stockbroker belt to the south of London could hold 700 million barrels of shale oil.

It may seem that the portent of fracking doom is about to “shatter the idyll” of many of the influential, expensive rural villages that are located in the Wessex and Weald basins. However, based upon the rising tide of opposition to fracking in the North of England, it is difficult to see how hundreds of wells could be drilled in some of Britain’s most affluent areas, without a huge groundswell of opposition by those affected.

What makes things much more interesting for the Conservative Party is that these areas are what is known as “true-blue Tory” country, and they are about to have a war with their own people, with a General Election looming in 2015.

I hope that ALL Members of Parliament remember this, as it would seem that their embattled constituents are already at war.

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