April 27, 2014
Freedom For The Frackers
Claims and counter claims by polarized groups in the debate on environmental issues get a lot of press. So do discussions about democracy. Sometimes, however, the two come together. This is happening right now here in Britain with a new proposal to change the law to ease the way for the frackers. I have written about environmental issues here before but this one is different – it feels personal.
Arguments about fracking are nothing new – we in the UK have watched the whole thing play out in the US over the last few years. But now fracking is no longer a distant interest. It is in our faces and heading under our feet. The UK government has oiled the wheels of the fracking lobby and committed to supporting massive development. The new Gold Rush is on. We are asked to believe the assertions of the industry that the whole thing is safe and is going to make us all better off and cozy in our fracking-fired new world. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t.
Early in the debate the UK Coalition government gave notice that they intended to ease planning laws to speed up the drilling and exploration part of the fracking drive. Obtaining planning permission can be a serious obstacle to development but it is there for a purpose. Planning applications and processes are there to give local people – the little man – a say in what happens to his surroundings. History has shown us that we can’t afford to let big business make all the decisions if we want to protect our environment. For those of you in the US, consider this. Can you imagine putting BP in charge of environmental decisions in the Gulf of Mexico or anywhere else for that matter?
The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has finally admitted that the Coalition is aiming to change trespass laws to aid the search for suitable fracking land. At the moment, before they can drill on proposed sites, the companies have to get permission from landowners, whether it’s a farmer with thousands of acres, a business, or those with a tiny bit of Britain where their house stands. If the landowner objects and no agreement can be reached the drillers can appeal. That is their right and long may it continue. What they fear of course is that this will lead to lengthy delays and expensive court cases all over the land. But then that’s the whole point of planning objections.
Having dismissed all legitimate concerns about the safety or otherwise of fracking, the government is trying to make it impossible or impractical to object. This is not about petty disputes around local issues. It is about fundamental rights that the trespass laws have enshrined for centuries.
What makes fracking so special that it gets to change basic laws and freedoms without due consideration? It can only be the vast amounts of money involved. The feeding frenzy is already under way. The snowball is rolling downhill and growing bigger all the time. As Bob Dylan said, money doesn’t talk it swears.
The likes of Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and the World Wildlife Fund are all weighing in with counter arguments to the fracking lobby and a petition is attracting a lot of support. As Greenpeace point out, fracking perpetuates the potential for fossil fuel to make climate change worse. It will certainly scar the landscape. It is potentially dangerous and even Cuadrilla, the company in the forefront of fracking development, admits that the average householder in the UK will see little impact on their spiraling fuel bills.
It does not matter if you support or object to fracking. Nor does it matter if you are an environmentalist or a climate change disbeliever. What matters here is the future of the very land we live upon. There should be a right open debate as well as individual and national democratic rights, and ultimately what is at stake is the principle of the freedom of people to have a say in what happens to the world they live in, their environment, instead of giving over all the decisions to the relentless mission creep of big business.
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