Revelations that shale gas extraction could lower property values, increase insurance costs, and damage the environment – according to the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ (Defra) report – have served to reinforce the Lancashire County Council’s decision to reject Cuadrilla’s planning application at Preston New Road.
The fracking report was released this week following a lengthy battle and appeal by Greenpeace to the Information Commissioner which ruled at the end of June that Defra must release the report in full. On Wednesday evening ministers complied with the order and quietly sneaked the report out, two days after the Lancashire vote refusing fracking in the area.
“This report gives the lie to the shale lobby and ministers’ claim that there’s no evidence of negative impacts for fracking whilst questioning many of the arguments made in favour of it,” said Daisy Sands, Greenpeace UK energy and climate campaigner. “It’s a complete vindication of Lancashire County Council’s decision to reject Cuadrilla’s bid to frack in the region, and provides other councils with compelling reasons to do the same.”
A heavily redacted version of Defra’s 'Shale Gas Rural Economy Impacts' report was originally published last August, following a freedom of information request by Request Initiative on behalf of Greenpeace.
The information now revealed with the report’s release is likely to damage the government’s efforts to “go all out for shale gas”. Amid ever-growing public opposition to fracking, it appears the Conservative government may be the only ones left supporting the industry.
Bob Dennett, one of the founders of Frack Free Lancashire, told DeSmog UK that the report's findings are “of no surprise whatsoever, we've been talking about these things for a very long time,” adding that this “absolutely” boslters support for Lancashire County Council's decision to refuse Cuadrilla's planning applications.
In January, the Council had requested that the redacted report be released in full in order to make an informed decision on the fracking applications.
While Lancashire councillors may not have had access to the full report ahead of making the decision on whether or not to allow fracking to happen in the UK for the first time since 2011, findings previously redacted in the report confirm their concerns regarding noise and light pollution.
As the internal report acknowledges: “Some residents may experience deafening noise [from the rigs]; light pollution that affects sleeping patterns.”
Truck movements to and from the site – about 14 to 51 journeys a day over a period of weeks – could also impact air pollution and noise it states.
According to Dennett, one of the councillors told him that “had we had that information when we first asked for it, we would never have voted to pass the seismic arrays at Roseacre, and we wouldn't have had all the legal to-ing and fro-ing that we've had over Preston New Road because we would have… voted with that [information] in mind.”
“No wonder Defra sat on this explosive report until after the Lancashire decisions. Instead of hiding information and trying to force through fracking, the UK Government should follow the lead of Wales and Scotland and put fracking on hold,” said Tony Bosworth, Friends of the Earth energy campaigner.
Discredit the Report
However, Defra is now making attempts to discredit the report, which it fought tooth and nail to keep secret, claiming the report is simply “an early draft of an internal document” and “not analytically robust”.
This reflects claims made in January by Liz Truss, Defra's environment secretary, when she told MPs that the report was prepared by a junior member in another department “and it was not appropriate for them to have done so.”
Amber Rudd has also recently claimed that releasing the report would “mislead” the public. Dennett said: “My interpretation of that comment is that they wouldn't release it because it would reveal to the public that the government had been misleading us, or been trying to. Unfortunately for them, it failed.”
The government has now also, ironically, changed its tune when it comes to highlighting the United States’ ‘shale gas boom’ as an example of what could be replicated here in Britain.
A Defra spokesperson said about the report: “Containing no new evidence, the paper simply refers to data from overseas studies which cannot be used to predict impacts in the UK with any degree of reliability.”
Green MP Caroline Lucas has now demanded that Truss apologises for initially withholding the full report.
Lucas said: “The government has conducted itself appallingly in holding back this crucial evidence. The environment secretary should now offer a full apology to communities facing the threat of fracking and guarantee that such deceitful behaviour won’t happen again in the future.”
Photo: Justin Woolford via Flickr