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'Bulldozing' Democracy, UK Government Poised to Greenlight Fracking Bonanza

Despite increasing concern by citizens, Cameron government plans to strip municipalities of power to approve new drilling projects

At an anti-fracking demonstration held Monday, January 26 outside Parliament. (Photo: DAVID HOLT/flickr/cc)

At an anti-fracking demonstration held Monday, January 26 outside Parliament. (Photo: DAVID HOLT/flickr/cc)

The United Kingdom is on the brink of a fracking bonanza after reporting this weekend revealed plans to begin 'fast tracking' new drilling plans.

According to The Sunday Times in London, the UK government is set to unveil new guidance that "will strengthen the power of ministers to step in and wrest decisions from local authorities if planners are perceived to be obstructive," hoping to circumvent the current application process and streamline the approval of new shale drilling operations.

In recent years, local municipalities in the UK have been the site of fierce opposition to shale oil and gas drilling by way of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. In late June, for instance, officials in Lancashire county rejected a bid by Cuadrilla for expansive new drilling operations, in what was deemed a significant blow to the fracking industry, as well as to the administration of Prime Minister David Cameron.

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Now, the federal government has issued its response. In an op-ed in the Sunday Times, energy secretary Amber Rudd assailed the current approval process for new drilling operations, which she said "dragged out for months or even years on end." These delays, she continued, could spell the "death" of a "vital national industry."

Rudd said that the government will be reaching out directly to local planning authorities "to make clear that there is a national need to explore shale in a safe, sustainable and timely way."

The rule change, which is expected to be officially announced later this week, comes days after a new study revealed that the amount of methane gas being emitted from fracking wells has been hugely underestimated. The study, observers noted, throws into question the oft-cited argument that natural gas is a more climate-friendly energy source. 

"The same government that has just given more powers to local councils to oppose wind farms, the cheapest source of clean energy, is about to strip them of their right to say no to risky and polluting fracking," said Greenpeace’s Daisy Sands.

Citing recent polling which found that a growing number of British residents are opposed to fracking, Sands continued: "With public support for shale at an all time low, ministers are now having to bulldoze their unpopular fracking plans through. There will be a high political price to pay for putting the interest of the fossil fuel lobby before those of local residents, the environment and the climate."

In a not unrelated development, a Greenpeace investigation published in late June found that one of Rudd's top advisers had accepted a large contribution from an engineering firm set to profit significantly from the expansion of UK fracking.

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