Ignoring massive local opposition, as well as grave threats to community and climate, the British government on Thursday overruled a local ban to greenlight a controversial fracking project in northern England.
"This is a sad day as it is clear to all that this government neither listens nor can it be trusted to do the right thing for local communities," said Pat Davies, chair of the Preston New Road Action Group, which is one of the local bodies that for years has fought against the project.
More than 18,000 residents of Lancashire objected to the plan for fracking giant Cuadrilla to drill up to four wells at the Preston New Road site, prompting local officials last year to reject the proposal. But Cuadrilla's appeal left the decision solely up to Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Sajid Javid, who on Thursday ruled in favor of the project. The decision to drill at a second site, Roseacre Wood, has been postponed.
Environmentalists and community members were outraged over the decision, accusing the U.K. government of "dismantling democracy" as well as climate "hypocrisy" in light of the commitments made under the newly-ratified Paris agreement.
The decision came hours after the landmark climate treaty surpassed a key threshold of support from global nations, meaning it will officially enter into force on November 4. With increasing evidence pointing to the dangers of shale drilling—including new findings that oil and gas drilling activities are emitting as much as 60 percent more methane than previously thought—campaigners vowed to continue fighting against the fracking project.
"[T]oday of all days, you'd think the government would be embracing the transition to clean, sustainable power, not doubling down on dash for fracked gas," wrote Greenpeace fracking campaigner Hannah Martin.
"Dismantling the democratic process to facilitate a dirty fossil fuel industry when only months ago the U.K. committed to climate change targets in Paris is another example of saying one thing and doing another," Davies said. "Profit clearly comes before people. This decision will be scrutinized by many, not just the people of Lancashire and this travesty of justice will not be accepted. This is not the end. We will challenge this."
"Instead of shoving us down a dangerous path that inevitably leads to climate change, the government should invest in renewables and energy efficiency, an emerging industry that could create 24,000 jobs in the north west alone," added Friends of the Earth (FOE) north-west campaigner Helen Rimmer. "This fight continues until this unproven and unpopular industry disappear for good."
Indeed, project opponents are already planning a non-violent, direct action response to the ruling for Saturday. Meanwhile, condemnation over the government's "disgusting contempt for democracy" spread across social media.
— Michael Calderbank (@Calderbank) October 6, 2016
Outraged government has overridden Lancashire and granted permission for fracking at Preston New Road site. Affront to local democracy
— Cat Smith (@CatSmithMP) October 6, 2016
RAFF's reaction to disgusting decision made in total ignorance of facts & total disregard for health & environment https://t.co/B0zAPq8Ttv
— RAFF (@RAFF_group) October 6, 2016
As FOE notes, "this decision in Lancashire sets a dangerous precedent for fracking being forced on people everywhere," as more than 200 areas across the U.K. are slated for possible fracking.
In a Thursday column, the Guardian's Damian Carrington dismantles each of the British government's arguments for expanding shale drilling—energy security, lower power bills, a bridge to lower carbon sources—which, he notes, are concurrent with increasing roadblocks for new renewable energy sources, such as on-shore wind farms.
"Javid's decision shows the government remains unwavering in its support for unproven, climate-polluting and unpopular fracking, whilst cracking down on proven, clean and popular renewables," Carrington concludes. "The fight to deliver a smart energy policy is tough enough—supplies must be simultaneously affordable, clean and secure—without shooting yourself in the foot."