Just as Thatcher ploughed ahead with her ideological totem, the poll tax, in the face of clear evidence that it was deeply unpopular, so her modern-day acolytes around Cameron seem determined to do exactly the same thing over fracking, with very likely the same results. Despite the intense resistance demonstrated against Cuadrilla’s plans to set up drilling at Balcombe in the Sussex Weald, the government pressed ahead with their determination to allow fracking beneath people’s homes which, given Tories’ obsession with the sacred rights of property, is an extraordinary revelation that for them commercial interests now trump everything. As required under Whitehall rules, the government then undertook a consultation about their plans. It turned out that there were 40,647 responses, of whom 99% were opposed. The government then, with the typical arrogance of the Westminster establishment which proved so toxic in the Scottish referendum, decided nevertheless to go ahead regardless. In a breathtaking illustration of their contempt for public opinion they put out the following statement: “Having carefully considered the consultation responses, we believe that the proposed policy remains the right approach to underground access and that no issues have been identified that would mean that our overall policy approach is not the best available solution”!
The government is therefore going to pass new laws giving automatic access for gas and oil drilling below 300 metres even if it’s in someone’s garden or below their house. The only redress is a notification and compensation scheme run by the industry, but that is voluntary and there will be no legal comeback if the industry opts to take no such action! This steamrollering over individuals’ rights in their own homes will not only be a potent weapon for the Opposition to beat the government with, but a formidable source of resistance in the Tory heartlands. Research has shown that more than 120 Tory MPs face protest groups in their constituencies, and of the 40 key marginal seats in the party’s election strategy, 31 fall in areas where exploratory drilling is about to start or has been permitted. Only 7 Cabinet members will not be affected, and of the 160 protest groups 70% are in Tory areas.
This policy of unlimited fracking is wrong on every count. It extends the life of fossil fuels when we should be steadily phasing them out and leaving in the ground the vast majority of what has not yet been burnt. We should be prohibiting or at least drastically limiting fracking if the rapidly burgeoning anti-fracking campaign groups haven’t already achieved that. And in their place we need a crash programme to dramatically accelerate the development of windpower, solar, and wave and tidal power, alongside strong incentives to maximise energy efficiency and energy conservation.