Green Party of England and Wales co-leader Jonathan Bartley has given support to protestors and said that Greens “will continue to resist this destruction” after Energy Minister Claire Perry has issued the first fracking permit since a new regulatory regime was introduced.
Fracking is currently expected to begin in late August, and Francis Egan, Chief Executive of Cuadrilla, has also said that an application to frack a second well at Preston New Road will be submitted shortly.
Fracking – the process by which water and chemicals are pumped at high pressure to fracture underground shale rock formations and release gas – has long since been controversial as it risks air and water pollution, and could exacerbate climate change.
The Preston New Road site, between Blackpool and Preston, has been the centre of more than 18 months of protests after the government overruled the Lancashire County Council decision opposing fracking at the site in October 2016.
The overruling proved highly controversial – earlier this month MPs on Parliament’s Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee warned of the dangers of moving decision-making on fracking applications to a national level, saying it would be “hugely harmful” to local democracy.
Intimidation and heavy handed tactics deployed against protestors have also muddied the waters. Gina Dowding, Green councillor for Lancashire County Council and noted anti-fracking campaigner, was arrested in 2017 during a ‘lock on’ protest at the site.
In 2014, 25 individuals from anti-fracking group UK Nanas occupied an empty field at the site in order to raise awareness of the proximity to locals. After refusing to pay legal fees of more than £55,000 for a paper eviction, which took place after the protestors had already left, one of them, Tina Rothery was charged with 'Contempt of Court', which could have resulted in a prison sentence. Eventually, in a ‘locked court’, the charge was dropped, as Cuadrilla decided not to press charges.
The path to “environmental destruction”
Controversially, Energy Minister Claire Perry called shale gas an important energy source, adding: “Our world-class regulations will ensure that shale exploration will maintain robust environmental standards and meet the expectations of local communities.”
Liz Hutchins, Director of Campaigns at Friends of the Earth, questioned the need for fracking given the advance in renewable technologies, stating: “It’s taken the industry seven long years to just get to this point.
“In those same seven years, renewable energy has gone from providing a tenth of our electricity to supplying a third of it. There is no need to force fracking on this community in Lancashire when the alternatives are so clear.
“The government backed the wrong horse. Renewables have cleared the finishing line and have taken the cup while fracking is limping along on the first stretch.”
Reacting to the news, Green Party of England and Wales co-leader Jonathan Bartley said: "The government is entirely wrong to give permission to frack. At the same time as it is suppressing peaceful resistance, it is railroading through its own path to environmental destruction. We stand in solidarity with all those putting themselves in the way of the drills and will continue to resist this destruction.
"It has taken seven years to get this far, we urge the government to forget the fantasy of a dash for gas and invest in a renewable future".