Fracking fracas: Campaigners and MPs urge Cameron to reconsider

A mass anti-fracking petition has been delivered to Downing Street and a new survey revealing the widespread condemnation of the Government's 'all-out' support for shale has been released, ahead of the first Commons vote on fracking legislation.

The Infrastructure Bill coming before MPs on Monday (26 January) includes a series of measures to pave the way for fracking in the UK, including a weakening of property rights in favour of energy firms planning to frack under people’s homes, and the allowance of fracking firms to put ‘any substance’ under people’s homes.

Ahead of the crucial vote on this new fracking legislation, a 267,000-strong petition urging Prime Minister David Cameron to reconsider the coalition Government’s support for fracking was delivered by a broad alliance of environmental groups including Greenpeace UK, Friends of Earth, and WWF.

“It is totally unacceptable for David Cameron to be zealously pursuing fracking and shale gas when the world’s scientists are clear that ditching fossil fuels is an urgent imperative,” said Friends of the Earth energy campaigner Oliver Hayes.

“His headlong drive to go ‘all out’ for fracking belies public opinion, economic sense or any notion that his coalition Government is committed to being the ‘greenest ever’. Instead of pandering to the fossil fuel industry, David Cameron must put the interests of people and the planet first and pursue a massive programme to insulate the UK’s coldest homes and ramp up investment in green energy.”

Fracking moratorium 

Meanwhile, backbench MPs from most of the major political parties have this week proposed a motion that would force a vote for a moratorium on fracking across Britain. The new motion, backed by MPs including Yasmin Qureshi (Labour), Hywel Williams (Plaid Cymru) Julian Huppert (Lib Dem) and Caroline Lucas (Green) would, if passed, introduce a moratorium on fracking for up to two and a half years while the risks are assessed.

The proposal follows the example of New York State, where a moratorium was introduced, while the state Government undertook a study into the health impacts of fracking.

One of the biggest contention points of the proposed legislation is that it fails to fully protect the sensitive areas that supply aquifers – the country’s sources of drinking water – with the exception of the ground closest to the aquifer. Groundwater protection zones cover about 15% of England and Wales and provide a third of their drinking water – a contribution rising to 80% in some areas of southern England.

New analysis released today (21 January) by Greenpeace UK has revealed that 224 Tory and Lib Dem MPs – including half of David Cameron’s cabinet – would in fact face the prospect of fracking firms drilling through sensitive water catchment areas in their constituencies.

Interactive Map: Fracking by constituency

By overlaying maps of constituencies, groundwater reserves and onshore licence blocks, Greenpeace found more than three quarters of Tory constituencies and about half of all Lib Dem seats contain areas where fracking licenses and water catchment areas overlap.

In what will prove to be a crunch week for the government’s push on shale, the Lancashire County Council’s development control committee will next week decide whether to give energy firm Cuadrilla the go-ahead to frack at two sites near Blackpool. If it allows fracking, Lancashire would become the first local authority to give the go-ahead to the controversial technique since a nationwide ban was lifted by the Government in 2012. 

Half of the country is now licensed to be fracked, including sensitive areas such as national parks, cities, and groundwater protection zones.

But public opinion on fracking is mixed. A YouGov survey of almost 2,000 Brits released today (22 January) found that more than half (56%) feel ‘unfavourable’ towards government plans to allow fracking on land that feeds the nation’s aquifers. The poll also reveals only one in three (36%) people think that fracking in Great Britain would be carried out safely.

Readers’ Poll: To frack or not to frack?

So, what do you think? Do you agree with environmental activists that fracking should be banned, or are the economic arguments put forward by the coalition Government strong enough to pursue shale gas extraction? Cast your VOTE here and leave a comment below to let us know your thoughts.

Luke Nicholls

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