By Michael Johnson
On Monday 28 July, the Government announced that about half of the UK was now ripe for fracking, with energy firms encouraged to bid for on-shore oil and gas licenses for the first time in six years.
National parks, world heritage sites and areas of outstanding natural beauty are included in the sites advertised for exploration, though the government has said that such applications would be granted only “exceptional circumstances and in the public interest.”
It is worrying that such sites would be considered for fracking at all — and the oversight is little consolation when it is the likely that the communities secretary Eric Pickles will be making the decisions on appeals over the next 12 months.
Political intervention from Pickles could be designed to preserve core Tory areas such as Hampshire, Surrey, Sussex and Kent at the expense of shale basins like the Bowland basin of the north-west and a central belt of Scotland. This would leave millions of people facing what Greenpeace have called a “fracking postcode lottery”.
Matthew Hancock, the Tory energy minister, wants to speed up the process so companies can start drilling within six months of putting in applications. This already follows tax breaks and other incentives designed to kick-start the industry.
Aside from local environmental damage, threats to water supplies, and the risk of triggering seismic events, the expansion of fracking makes a nonsense of the Coalition’s legally-binding commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 50% against 1990 levels in the fourth carbon budget period 2023-27.
A Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research report in 2011 concluded that large-scale extraction of shale gas “cannot be reconciled” with climate change commitments to limit global temperature increases to 2°C.
This latest profit-driven drive to increase investment in fossil fuels flies in the face of ever more drastic climate change. It proves yet again that markets have no answer to the environmental crisis, and that social ownership and democratic control of energy firms and resources is a critical necessity to save the planet.
This requires socialists to push the labour movement to take up environmental issues, and create a mass working-class climate movement for democratic control over energy, fighting for green jobs and a sustainable energy policy.