Thursday, August 1, 2013

Government angers critics over fracking

Campaigners in the West fighting ‘fracking’ plans will find it a lot harder than fighting wind turbines, because the Government is displaying ‘almost comical’ levels of hypocrisy to favour gas exploration.
That was the view of environmental campaigners battling an imminent wave of applications to extract shale gas – a process known as ‘fracking’ from beneath large parts of the West.
The Government has told local councils to give ‘great weight’ to the benefits of fracking when they judge applications, while the obstacles to green energy firms wanting to install wind turbines are increasing.
One leading West green energy pioneer accused the Government of “rigging” the energy market in favour of gas and nuclear, and environmental group Greenpeace said the ‘hypocrisy’ of different planning conditions for wind and fracking was ‘almost comical’.
Shale gas exploration is planned for parts of the Mendips in Somerset, and test exploration has sparked violent protests at Balcombe in West Sussex in the past week.
One protester, Michael Atkins, from Westbury in Wiltshire, was among dozens arrested. The 37-year-old has been charged with an assault on police and a charge under the Trade Union Labour Relations Act, and will appear before magistrates in Sussex in a fortnight.
He was one of dozens of protesters who joined village campaigners to try and stop lorries laden with drilling equipment from beginning fracking exploration.
The fracking protests have been followed by new guidelines issued to local councils covering applications for energy sources – from nationally-important plans like a new nuclear reactor at Hinkley in Somerset, to applications for four wind turbines in Gloucestershire.
Local Government secretary Eric Pickles’ guidance said planners should give ‘great weight’ to the benefits of extraction, while it gave added strength to anti-wind campaigners."
All communities have a responsibility to help increase the use and supply of green energy,” the guidance said. “But this does not mean that the need for renewable energy automatically overrides environmental protections and the planning concerns of local communities.”
Ruth Davis, political director at Greenpeace UK, said: “The level of hypocrisy revealed by these two documents is almost comical.
“If the Government applied the same level of caution to fracking as they do to renewable energy developments, then they’d be lucky to drill a single well. Ministers are apparently dedicated to protecting the local environment, apart from its water, air and earth.”
Friends of the Earth’s planning campaigner Naomi Luhde-Thompson said: “Eric Pickles rightly says the views of local people must be listened to when making planning decisions – it’s outrageous this doesn’t apply when it comes to fracking.
"Under these proposals clean energy schemes such as wind turbines could be rejected on visual grounds, while fracking operations that threaten local communities and pollute our atmosphere could be given a virtual green light.”
And she said: “It’s staggering that the minister has refused to insist on councils playing their part in developing renewable energy goals – unless everyone take urgent action, the UK will fail to meet its targets for slashing emissions.”
Councils in the West have remained largely steadfast in their opposition to wind turbine applications – planners in Gloucestershire’s Berkeley Vale and on the Somerset Levels at Huntspill have rejected applications for wind turbines, while council chiefs in Wiltshire are waiting to hear if their plan to effectively ban tall wind turbines through their own planning policies will be allowed.
Ecotricity’s Dale Vince, who has been frustrated by council refusals in Gloucestershire and Somerset in the past year, said a Government decision to make nuclear firm EDF pay five times less to communities than wind power companies like his was tantamount to ‘rigging’ the market.
“This is a further move by the Government to rig the energy market against renewables in favour of nuclear and gas,” he said. “Nuclear power is already being fast-tracked through the planning system,” he added.