Government Recruits Fracking Commissioner to 'Facilitate Communication' With Residents

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Preston New Road site

The UK government is recruiting a shale gas commissioner to “facilitate communication” with residents and push what is sees as the benefits of a new fossil fuel industry. The position was announced days before the government gave the go-ahead for fracking to start in Lancashire.

The new role of shale commissioner has been described by the government as “an independent appointment” which will have no powers of enforcement or investigation but will aim to “improve local understanding of shale gas operations by directing concerned local parties to relevant and impartial fact based information”.

The commissioner will act as a go-between the industry, regulators and residents, “communicating the evidence base for shale” gas and “facilitating open and transparent communication with local residents”.

The job application states that the two year role will require up to eight days of work a month with applications for the role closing on Sunday. The advert was posted on Monday July 23.

Despite more than 18 months of active campaigning by anti-fracking protesters, energy minister Claire Perry has given the green light to the first fracking permit since new regulatory measures were introduced.

Shale gas firm Cuadrilla has been granted permission to start fracking at its Preston New Road site in Lancashire with the company expected to begin work by late August, early September.

This comes as the government launched a public consultation over whether fracking developments should be granted planning permission at a local level before being allowed to go ahead.

In a statement, Perry said shale gas had the potential to “further enhancing our energy security and helping us with our continued transition to a lower-carbon economy”. She added it had the capacity to “deliver substantial economic benefits, both nationally and locally, as well as through the creation of well paid, high-quality jobs”.

Government surveys show fracking currently has little public support.

In a recent government survey published in April, nearly a third of respondents (32 percent) said they were opposed to fracking compared with only 18 percent who supported it. Nearly half of respondents (47 percent) said they neither supported or opposed it.

The same survey found support for renewable energy peaked at 85 percent.

Resistance 

On the frontline of the battle against fracking in Lancashire and North Yorkshire, activists slammed the government’s move to try and win over communities as a lost cause.

In Lancashire, where Cuadrilla is planning to start fracking, a hosepipe ban is still in place as authorities worry about water shortages as the heatwave continues to see soaring temperatures across the country. Campaigners are concerned about how the industry could exacerbate water shortages, as fracking is a very water-intensive process.

Scientists and experts have warned that climate change driven by emissions from burning fossil fuels could increase extreme weather events and high temperatures. Previous studies have warned that a majority of the world’s fossil fuel reserves had to stay in the ground if the world is to limit dangerous levels of global warming.

Claire Stephenson, from Frack Free Lancashire, described the job application as “almost a joke job application, filled with absurd spin”. 

She said: “The fact that the ‘skills required’ include communication, media and marketing, suggest this role is nothing more than a hollow PR exercise. How dare the government presume to be able to speak on behalf of our concerns, considering they’ve spent the last several years assuaging the industry, blatantly changing the goalposts to suit them, whilst treating communities with utter condescension and oppression.”

Becky Daniels, an anti-fracking activist who has lived on a protest camp at the Preston New Road site for over a year with her three children, told DeSmog UK: “The relations between the local people and those who are trying to enforce fracking are at an all time low. We do not trust them because they cannot prove to us that fracking is safe.

This new role will just be another person in a chain that we have to work through to get our point across to the government.

Some people might feel much safer to know that there could be a go-to point of contact to speak about their concerns. But not for the rest of us who have realised for a while that this industry is toxic and dangerous.”

Reacting to the news the government granted permission for Cuadrilla to start fracking at the Preston New Road site, Daniels said: “None of us have lost hope here and we are still standing strong and united against the industry.”  

Russell Scott, a freelance journalist and member of the anti-fracking group Frack Free Ryedale in North Yorkshire, told DeSmog UK the hiring of a shale gas commissioner to facilitate communication with local residents was “desperate”.

This is another move by the government to try and convince an unwilling British public to accept that fracking isn’t dangerous or a threat to our environment.

We can no longer kick the can down the road - climate change is a real threat, supported by scientific facts. Do we need any more warnings before we figure out that we must tackle this problem without further procrastination rather than commit to a new form of fossil fuel extraction.”

Earlier this month, an investigation by DeSmog UK in cooperation with Vice Motherboard, revealed how fracking companies deployed a specialist security team to conduct mass social media surveillance of anti-fracking protesters, with material being used in UK courts to argue for further restrictions on protesters.

Image credit: Frack Free Creators – Knitting Nanas of Lancashire

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