Belfast Telegraph

Fracking could reduce house prices, increase traffic and noise and damage the landscape, according to previously redacted government report

Fracking could reduce house prices, increase traffic and noise and damage the landscape in rural communities, according to a heavily-redacted government report which has now been published in full.

The internal document - titled Shale Gas: Rural Economy Impacts - had several key sections obscured when it was published by the Environment Department (Defra) last summer in response to a request under environmental information laws.

Defra has now been forced by the Information Commissioner to publish in full the document, which reveals that potential negative impacts of the controversial process of fracking had been redacted.

Among the deleted sections were suggestions that house prices could fall by up to 7% in close proximity to shale gas exploration sites, while rental prices in the area could be pushed up by people coming to work on the developments.

Properties located within up to five miles from the fracking operation could face additional insurance costs to cover losses in case of explosion on the site, the study suggested.

While the redacted version of the report flagged up the jobs opportunities created by fracking, the un-redacted version sounds a note of caution, warning it was less clear how sustainable shale gas investments would be and if rural communities would be able to take advantage of them.

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And according to the document, shale gas developments "may transform a previously pristine and quiet natural region, bringing increased industrialization".

It adds: "As a result rural community businesses that rely on clean air, land, water, and/or a tranquil environment may suffer losses from this change such as agriculture, tourism, organic farming, hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation."

The study also said that while domestic shale gas production could reduce emissions by replacing imports of liquefied natural gas (LNG), if that displaced gas was used elsewhere it would push up greenhouse gases globally.

Waste water from fracking operations could place a burden on existing treatment facilities, it said.

A Defra spokesman said: "We respect the independent decision of the Information Commissioner's Office and have today released this paper in full.

"This document was drawn up as a draft internal discussion paper - it is not analytically robust, has not been peer-reviewed and remains incomplete.

"It does not contain any new data or evidence and many of the conclusions amount to unsubstantiated conjecture which do not represent the views of officials or ministers."

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The report, which the Government had been under pressure from campaigners and councillors deciding on fracking applications to publish in full, covers the economic, social and environmental impacts of shale gas exploration

Ministers have backed shale gas development in the UK, in the hope that it could replicate the shale boom in the US, boost jobs and the economy, bring down energy prices and make the country less reliant on foreign imports.

But opponents have raised fears that the process of extracting gas by hydraulic fracturing - or fracking - causes earthquakes, can pollute water supplies, could lead to inappropriate development in the countryside and damage house prices.

The un-redacted version of the report was not published until after Lancashire County Council decided on two planning applications in the Fylde region between Preston and Blackpool, both of which have been rejected.

Shale company Cuadrilla could well appeal those decisions, but although Defra stresses in a covering note that this report contains "early, often vague assumptions" not supported by evidence, it is likely to boost opposition to fracking in the region.

The report will also fuel the sense the Government has been trying to push through fracking despite local opposition, with the redacted version editing out a reference to the Fylde Coast as "an area within which future drilling activity will be concentrated".

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It said the impact on jobs was likely to be positive but "higher skilled jobs may be awarded to workers from outside local area", while losses from tourists "avoiding area due to shale gas operations" may be offset by hospitality for workers.

Studies suggested that communities would face increased congestion on roads, with between 16 and 51 vehicle movements a day, with as many as 250 lorry trips on the busiest days, the report said.

As operations expand and new workers arrived in rural locations, increased demand for housing could raise rents and cause "affordability" issues for rural residents.

And while evidence for the impact on property prices was "quite thin" and results not conclusive, "there could potentially be a range of 0 to 7% reductions in property values within 1 mile of an extraction site" to reflect the impacts of fracking.

There could be additional pressures on local services such as schools, doctors and dentists.

The entire section of the report that deals with environmental impacts of shale gas exploration had originally been redacted.

The full version deals in some detail with the impacts on water, including contaminated surface water which could affect human health and warns the "potential impacts on water resource availability, aquatic habitats and ecosystem and water quality is uncertain".

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It also draws on evidence from the US that residents near fracking sites "may experience deafening noise" as well as light pollution that affects sleeping patterns and noxious odours from venting gases that harm local air quality.

Friends of the Earth energy campaigner Tony Bosworth said: "No wonder Defra sat on this explosive report until after the Lancashire decisions - it shows that people living close to rural fracking sites can expect to see the value of their homes fall by up to 7% and their insurance costs rise.

"Businesses could also suffer as it reveals that fracking threatens agriculture, tourism, organic farming, hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation businesses through increased industrialisation of previously tranquil and pristine rural areas.

"Instead of hiding information and trying to force through fracking, the UK Government should follow the lead of Wales and Scotland and put fracking on hold."

Greenpeace UK energy and climate campaigner Daisy Sands said: "This report gives the lie to the shale lobby and ministers' claim that there's no evidence of negative impacts for fracking whilst questioning many of the arguments made in favour of it.

"It's a complete vindication of Lancashire County Council's decision to reject Cuadrilla's bid to frack in their region, and provides other councils with compelling reasons to do the same."

And she said: "The only sensible course of action for the Government is to declare a fracking moratorium and establish a truly independent inquiry to look at the wealth of available evidence about shale gas impacts.

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"Sneaking out this report late on the day of the Airports Commission announcement is further proof, if needed, of how desperate ministers are to bury evidence of the negative impacts of fracking on local communities."

Keith Taylor, Green MEP for South East England, who has campaigned for the fracking report to be released in full, said: "An open and honest debate on fracking cannot be had if the Government hides the evidence so I'm pleased they have been forced by public pressure into releasing the report in full.

"The report shows exactly what the Government were trying to hide; that fracking is hugely damaging to our environment, to our health and to our climate. The report also shows unsurprisingly that house prices in areas close to fracking sites are destined to fall".

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