‘Nothing has changed’: UK Government revives interest in fracking

Lancashire County Councillor Gina Dowding and Lancashire Anti-fracking Nana Tina Rothery express dismay at the UK Government’s renewed interest in the process.

Person in HiVis
Cllr Gina Dowding and Tina Rothery

Residents around Preston New Road and the tiny Lancashire village of Little Plumpton have been here before. In 2015, Lancashire County Council rejected a permit for a shale gas site – where the first full-production fracking would take place in the UK – with local people overjoyed by this decision. Their joy, however, was quashed when the UK Government overturned this decision and the site went into development in 2017. Locals, campaigners and environmentalists protested at the site for 1000 days. 

Then, in November 2019, there was outright celebration again at the news of the Government’s moratorium to halt any further fracking due to the ongoing seismic activity it was causing. Yet now, despite the IPCC report urging an end to fossil fuels, the UK Government has again come down in favour of oil and gas lobbyists to order a new report into the impact of fracking.

The people of Preston New Road and the surrounding areas of Blackpool and Preston would say they already know what the outcome would be: more seismic events, ongoing disruption, industrialisation of agricultural land, risks to water sources, a huge surge in road traffic and heavy vehicles, methane burn off or venting and undoubtedly and determinedly, more protests. They’ve been opposing this industry since 2011 and won this fight twice – they’re not going to concede.

So why this sudden resurgence of the fracking industry in the UK? Conservative Party backbench climate sceptics like Steve Baker MP and Lord Frost are championing fracking through the ‘Net Zero Scrutiny Group’. Using the horror of the war in Ukraine and the ban on Russian oil and gas as an excuse to promote ‘home-grown gas and oil’, again. Yet no facts about the shale gas industry have changed; it will still take over a decade to develop a site and produce anything, if indeed anything can be produced with UK geology and population density not suited to the process. 

The jobs created, described as ‘fly in – fly out’, will not bring prosperity to locals. Any energy produced would be owned by whichever private company extracts it and then sold on the world market – there is no reality in the claim of ‘UK gas for UK use’ and fracking will not reduce our energy bills, that’s not how the energy market works. And of course, the very real and proven environmental and climate impacts, locally and globally, are still every bit as threatening.

Ineos, a company which produces energy and plastics (a by-product of fracking), claimed recently that fracking could give the UK energy security for 50 years. According to an article in the Telegraph: “Sources said that Ineos's work shows shale gas ‘reserves’ (our italics) in Britain are as rich as those found in parts of the US, where fracking has helped turn the country into a net energy exporter and kept down prices at a time of surging costs in Europe”.

But it must be remembered that ‘reserves’ do not equate to ‘recoverable gas’, and the UK’s geology makes it much harder and more expensive to access.

Other media articles spoke about the risks and threats – not to the health of residents or the environment, or to achieving our carbon reduction targets –  but to UK manufacturing. Their focus is on claims that the UK couldn’t compete with countries with cheaper energy costs. But there is no evidence that the UK could produce the energy cheaply nor hold onto it for the benefit of UK manufacturers.

Our Green MP, Caroline Lucas, articulated the real challenge to the Minister in the House of Commons last month: “I think the Government is right to get us off Russian oil and gas, but wrong to replace it with domestic fossil fuels. After all, it is dependence on oil and gas that has got us into the energy crisis in the first place. The Government is fond of claiming we can’t just turn off the taps – but we can’t just turn them on either! We need an emergency green revolution and widescale energy efficiency – not fracking and more North Sea oil.”

So what now for the residents of Preston New Road? They’ve not really been able to put the threat of fracking to one side; until the moratorium becomes a ban, the revival of interest in fracking by its proponents was always a possibility. Local residents’ groups such as Frack Free Lancashire and the anti-fracking Nanas, and the environmental protectors and campaigners who worked side by side with them throughout this ordeal, are all back on alert.

Back in 2011, residents here raised the alarm and were joined by others opposing this industry including the Green Party, Friends of the Earth, and Greenpeace. The anti-fracking movement grew to have around 400 groups throughout the UK at its height and stood with Scotland and Ireland to stop fracking there. Together they lobbied, wrote letters, objected to every planning application, paid for legal support, raised awareness through the media, and engaged in direct action. They never gave up. Nothing has changed.