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28 January 2015 12:55

Fracking divides UK media as Lancashire Council defers Cuadrilla decision

Mat Hope


Mat Hope

28.01.2015 | 12:55pm
Oil and gasFracking divides UK media as Lancashire Council defers Cuadrilla decision

Lancashire Council today decided to defer a decision on whether to give fracking company Cuadrilla planning permission for two developments. Cuadrilla submitted revised plans after the council released a planning report recommending its applications be rejected.

Councillors will meet again in eight weeks to make a final decision, having today taken legal advice on how to proceed after Cuadrilla submitted its new plans.

County Hall was unusually swamped today with journalists eager to hear the decision. The case is being interpreted by many in the media as a litmus test for the UK’s appetite for a domestic shale gas industry. MPs stoked the fire earlier this week as they debated fracking regulations as part of the mammoth infrastructure bill on the same day the Environmental Audit Committee branded fracking “incompatible” with the UK’s climate goals.

The time has come

Some parts of the press are brimming with frustration that policymakers at all levels continue to obstruct shale gas exploration.  The Sun today painted a dramatic picture of the decision Lancashire’s councillors face, saying:

“They can abandon reason and give in to a hysterical mob. Or they can see the bigger picture, work with exploration firm Cuadrilla and make it happen. It’s their choice.”

The editorial expanded on points made in its  ‘Sunifesto’, which lays out the paper’s demands for any new government. It said, “[s]hale gas must now be quickly examined and exploited. Yet even our MPs are in thrall to hysterical scare stories about its harmful effects, despite scientific evidence proving otherwise.”

The Times was similarly scathing in an editorial attacking Lancashire council’s planning report, saying it showed how “committees of bumpkins” could be “influenced by marauding locals”. It called on the national government to do more to remove obstacles to shale gas exploitation, saying “Sometimes we elect a government because we want it to trample on the barons of local government and get on with making the country richer.”

The Telegraph is similarly eager for fracking to proceed, outlining its case in an editorial yesterday headlined “let the drilling begin”. It said the government has been cautious enough in putting in place a “a robust regulatory regime” and “the time has now come to get fracking. The country will simply not understand it if our parliamentarians continue to stand in the way of the opportunities it provides to underpin our energy security”, it argued.

The Daily Mail likewise bemoaned opposition politicians demonstrating a “readiness to put party before nation” by demanding tighter regulations. In a Telegraph opinion piece the day before, Phillip Johnston argued that delays over fracking represented the “zenith” of the “energy madness” gripping the UK.

The UK’s problems have been noted across the Atlantic. A Wall Street Journal opinion piece said MPs saved the UK from a “self-inflicted economic wound” by voting against a fracking moratorium, proposed in the infrastructure bill debate. Nonetheless, it remains a “political challenge” for the government to overcome fracking opposition, it noted.

Climate conflict

The political challenge isn’t to get fracking going, but to show that it can be done without busting the UK’s carbon budgets, a Guardian editorial on Monday argued. “It is, to say the least, questionable for the UK to claim the need to bring on stream a new fossil fuel at a time when it is also notionally greening its economy”, it said.

Author and some time Guardian contributor Naomi Klein agreed that the emissions argument was the most compelling obstacle to developing a UK shale gas industry. In an opinion piece last week, she urged the UK to abandon its claim that shale gas could act as a ‘bridge’ fuel between coal and low carbon energy sources, saying:

“The so-called bridge is already burning. And it’s long past time to choose a different path.”

Lancashire Council’s decision to put off making a decision for two months is unlikely to dam the flood of opinion on the UK’s shale gas plans. Journalists will no doubt sharpen their pens the week before the final decision is made as Lords debate the latest version of the infrastructure bill.

So Preston’s County Hall can expect to be packed to the rafters once again, as all eyes turn to what is being pitched as a key moment for the UK’s nascent shale gas industry.

Main Image: The Lancashire Coast, England, UK.
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