You may, like me, have seen today’s ministerial statement on fracking and sunk low in your chair, or muttered something outrageous about Greg Clark under your breath. And that’s if you’re not in a position to shout louder than you ever have before that this government can’t take no for an answer. If you haven’t seen it, the coverage paints pretty well how most of us feel. In essence, the proposals aim to remove the last remaining avenues through which local people can have any say on fracking. A quote that perhaps sums it up best is from Rose Dickinson at Friends of the Earth:
“If there was a referendum on fracking, it would be banished to the dustbin of history – and that’s where these proposals belong. Instead, the Conservatives are planning to railroad it through against the wishes of local people and the wider public.”
The ministerial statement is an outrage. It goes against every grain of democracy this country can still claim to have. But on this very dark day it may be worth outlining some of the reasons why this statement came to be, and why this gives us every reason to continue the fight.
- Firstly, these plans to effectively force fracking on communities are only in existence because of the sheer amount of local successes there have been against fracking in recent years. Particularly in the last few months, we have seen countless rejections of fracking plans at planning committees, resulting in fracking companies largely using what they can to simply bypass the democratic process entirely. The industry is so caught up in opposition they’ve had to resort to draconian measures such as suing the National Trust, Scotland, and ‘persons unknown’ (that’s us).
Fracking has been opposed to at almost every stage of the democratic process, and this is the only reason why the government are now determined to force it through. It is a measure of last resort – the government has been backed into a corner and the only thing they could do was lash out.
- Secondly, the statement explicitly refers to some of the things that have ticked the government off about these pesky local people and their council representatives. The North Yorkshire Joint Minerals and Waste Plan has just undergone review by a government-appointed inspector who found it sound. Why is it annoying? Because it brings a new definition of fracking to North Yorkshire that prevents unconventional methods differing only in name or volume to the government’s statutory definition of fracking from sneaking in through the back door.
The industry weren’t happy about this, and neither were the ministers. The statement says ‘We expect Mineral Planning Authorities to recognise the fact that Parliament has set out in statute the relevant definitions of hydrocarbon, natural gas and associated hydraulic fracturing.’ That’s a call out to any naughty people trying to deviate from the government’s framework, which of course is perfect. So, again, this reference they make is alluding to another success this year that the government are very bitter about. Talk about sore losers.
- Finally, we’ve already seen great victories this year on the frontline. Third Energy have withdrawn their equipment from Kirby Misperton after their finances came under scrutiny – that’s one less site to worry about for the moment, leaving Preston New Road in Lancashire as the only site in the UK where fracking is even close to happening. Six years after George Osborne announced a dash for gas, we have yet to see any fracked gas leave a site of production and ready for sale. That’s amazing, and has only been possible because of the sheer range and diversity of people fighting fracking with astonishing spirit and resilience.
Today’s ministerial statement is a painful day for those who thought fracking was dead and buried. But it also serves as a reminder – we’re winning. The only reason a statement with this level of disregard for democracy could come to be published is because the government now have no other way of pushing their plans through.
It’s now time to put all we have into stopping this final assault. Who knows, maybe after we bring a halt to these plans, the nightmare that saw fracking storm up the government agenda may finally be put to bed, and we can crack on with creating that positive future of clean energy for all.
Written by UKYCC member Mark Robinson