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Shale gas exploration go-ahead hailed by businesses but slammed by campaigners

Published 06/10/2016

Caroline Lucas said ministers ignored local people who objected to plans for shale gas exploration
Caroline Lucas said ministers ignored local people who objected to plans for shale gas exploration

The Government's decision to allow shale gas exploration in Lancashire has been welcomed by business groups but prompted dismay among anti-fracking campaigners.

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, who took part in protests against fracking in Balcombe, West Sussex, in 2013, said ministers had ignored local people who had objected to the plans.

"Today's decision shows the yawning gap between the Government's rhetoric and the reality of their policies - and it will send a shiver down the spine of the many people up and down the country fighting fracking.

"Ministers promise to support "ordinary people" but have ignored the people of Lancashire - including local and district councillors and the overwhelming majority of local people who objected to these reckless plans."

And she said: "Fracking is a dirty, expensive and dangerous gamble with our environment, security and economy. We should be choosing an energy system powered by the renewable sources that we have in abundance and keep fossil fuels in the ground."

But the British Chambers of Commerce said the decision sent an important and positive signal on the UK's future energy security.

Acting director general Adam Marshall said: "We need to explore the potential for shale gas to make a contribution to our energy mix, alongside both nuclear and renewables.

"Tapping domestic energy resources creates both energy security and jobs here at home, and seems a much better alternative to dependence on supplies from overseas."

Babs Murphy, chief executive of the North & Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce said: "Developing a viable shale industry in Lancashire will have positive economic implications for the region in terms of investment, jobs and supply chain engagement, and has the potential to provide security of energy supply to regional manufacturers.

"This announcement means that local businesses will be in pole position for future shale gas supply chain opportunities in the county."

But there were warnings that despite the go-ahead, shale gas may not take off as an industry in the UK.

Prof Jim Watson, director of the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC), said: "The economics of shale extraction in the UK are still highly uncertain, and it is not known whether shale production will deliver gas cheaper than that currently used by UK consumers.

"The costs of UK shale will not be clearer until a significant amount of exploratory drilling takes place.

"But even if shale gas development turns out to be economic, it is unlikely to have a noticeable impact on the energy bills of UK consumers," he said.

Ken Cronin, chief executive of industry body UK Onshore Oil and Gas (UKOOG) said: "The approval of the application at Preston New Road is an important step forward towards determining what gas resources we have under our feet, with the aim of developing a sustainable onshore natural gas exploration industry in the UK.

"We need the gas to heat our homes, produce electricity, supply our industries and to reduce our dependency on imports.

"The onshore oil and gas industry is committed to producing this gas in the safest and most environmentally sensitive way possible and to creating jobs and opportunities in the supply chain."

Emma Pinchbeck, head of climate change and energy at WWF-UK, said the announcement took the UK further away from meeting legal "carbon budgets" which require the electricity system to produce close to zero emissions by 2032.

"The Government should be spending its time and resources focusing on the development and implementation of clean renewable energy sources, rather than fossil fuels that will impact on our ability to tackle climate change," she said.

"This decision has wilfully ignored science, sensible business, and the views of the local community who will be negatively affected for decades to come."

In the wake of the move, there were concerns that the Government was not treating different energy sources equally, favouring fracking above renewables - even though the clean energy sources are more popular with the public.

Cecily Spelling, campaigner at climate organisation 10:10, said: "Sajid Javid has justified this undemocratic decision by insisting that we have to use the resources we have in this country.

"So let's do that - the UK has the best onshore wind resource in Europe. It's the cheapest option for new power, and very popular with British people, especially compared to fracking.

When it comes to onshore wind, the Government told us they want to 'put communities in the driving seat' - then introduced planning rules that are so draconian they actually stop communities from doing their own wind projects even when they want to.

"Yet when communities reject fracking, they now have it forced on them by central government."

Industry body RenewableUK's chief executive Hugh McNeal said: "The UK needs a wide range of energy sources to keep people's electricity bills down.

"Onshore wind is the cheapest form of new build power generation available in Britain, so makes sense to include it in our energy mix.

"All we want is the chance to compete, to show the industrial and consumer benefits new onshore wind can bring Britain."

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