England smashed open with fracking auction

Whilst there were those that knew that this was coming whether they liked it or not, there were many English citizens who did not see this powerful knockout blow-to-their-dreams coming.

Yesterday (August 18th 2015), in their 14th Licencing round, Westminster Government successfully opened up the auctioning gates to 27 plots of land to the Oil and Gas companies for purposes of Unconventional Shale Gas Extraction (USGE).

The areas up for purchase include several areas across the north of England and Midlands including Middlesborough, Scarborough and the Historical City of York.

Each individual auctioning block measures 10km by 10km, bringing the total area of land to 2,700 sq/km for these particular licensed areas. It is not entirely clear whether or not areas of special scientific interest and environmentally sensitive areas are going to be protected.

Why has this move come as a shock for so many?

In my own opinion, there were three events over the last 14 months that lead the English into believing their land would not be fracked:

  • The collective moratoriums in Wales and Scotland.
  • The (temporary) stalling of fracking in Fermanagh, N.Ireland
  • The ban of USGE in New York.

The success of those three peaceful, law abiding campaigns seemed to build a momentum within the consciousness of many, not just the English, but the Irish, N.Irish, Welsh, and Scottish also, that the practice of USGE was something that could be stopped.

The bottom line here is that as a result of those three successes, people really did feel that if a local area felt opposed to the environmental and health risks of fracking that this meant that fracking wouldn’t go ahead.

However those that could look at the facts properly, and without emotion, could see clearly that this wasn’t the case, in particular when you take into account that David Cameron’s strong Pro-Fracking views.

Further to this, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Teresa Villers has previously backed fracking in Northern Ireland and only 8 months ago FFAN reported that the Minister of State for Environment and Climate Change Matt Hancock expressed his desire for Unconventional Shale Gas Extraction to proceed despite the fact that recent drastic diminishing oil and gas prices may make the energy extraction process even more unprofitable for both government and corporations.

This support for fracking by our collective Government Officials comes despite the fact that The British Medical Journal (BMI) criticising the technical, economical and health deficiencies of USGE and Australian medical journal the LANCET highlighting the health risks of fracking via water, air and soil transport systems.

Yet, fracking can only go ahead, subject with local planning consent by local councils. However, Westminster can over turn this.

As a result, many English citizens have woken up this morning with proverbial bloody noses as the stark reality hits them in the face that their area is now up for grabs, and they will have felt bad for not seeing it coming sooner.

Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, Scotland and Wales should take heed.

Below is the 14th Onshore Round of Licences that are up for auction.

14th round

Westminster speed up application process once more

The UK Government has once more sped up the application process that relates to Unconventional Shale Gas Extraction (USGE).

In a move that is more likely to affect the auctioned areas from the 14th round and beyond, USGE applications now force local councils to grant the application no later than 16 weeks, without extension. Whilst planning applications are already subject to a 16 week deadline, there was the option of extending the deadline so that more information could be gathered. However, that option has now been removed.

If the deadline is reached and the application not granted, the Westminster Government has the right to step in, overrule the local council in question, and grant the application to the Oil and Gas companies.

This move may not be in the spirit of the law that would allow time for research for Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) and Health Impact Assessments (HIA). However, the move to keep application processes within 16 weeks is within the letter of the law, and is therefore not illegal.

The move can be deemed as a shame because  EIA’s and HIA’s should be carried out so that the risk to human health and quality of live can be assessed before any new industry moves into an area, in particular fracking, which has already earned itself such a dark shady past, despite Governments globally stating that the practice is safe.

Marcus Johnstone, cabinet member for environment, planning and cultural services at Lancashire county council. His councils conflict with Cuadrilla was only possible due to the fact that they could apply for extension on deadlines for the purposes of carrying out more research on the subject. Those extensions are now now longer permitted to licences granted from 14th round on wards.
Marcus Johnstone, cabinet member for environment, planning and cultural services at Lancashire county council. His councils conflict with Cuadrilla was only possible due to the fact that they could apply for extension on deadlines for the purposes of carrying out more research on the subject. Those extensions are now now longer permitted to licences granted from 14th round on wards. (image source: council.lancashire.gov.uk)

Sadly, the 16 week ‘no-extension-available’ deadline won’t allow the local councils the time to assess the dangers to the people and environment in their area properly.

This runs risk of hurting other humans, children and adults, today and tomorrow and the option of an extension for further research is a good thing, and it should not be removed.

But it has been. And it is not illegal.

Marcus Johnstone, cabinet member for environment, planning and cultural services at Lancashire county council, who have had to deal with Cuadrilla, said that the Cuadrilla case had “dragged on” so long, because the deadlines his council sought had been extended to get more information. He said: “I can see what the direction of travel is: it’s to remove local determinism, and the right of local people to have a say,” Furthermore Johnstone felt that reducing the role of local planning risked storing up problems later. “If they [government] don’t gauge the anger now, they run a real risk of not giving the public any outlet to express their views. If you shut out off the safety valve, you’re going to have problems.”