As the unconventional oil and gas industry reels from Scotland’s recent decision to ban fracking, England now finds itself surrounded by countries that have banned the controversial practice (Scotland, Ireland, France) or have moratoria in place (Wales, Northern Ireland). And with every major UK opposition party committed to banning fracking, the industry knows it’s just one general election away from extinction. Police warn of 'substantial disruption' as four protesters block road near North Yorkshire fracking site This shift in the political landscape takes place against a backdrop of daily protests at Kirby Misperton in Ryedale, where Third Energy are planning to conduct five small test-fracks. Many people are questioning why it’s necessary to have 50 body-armoured riot police to control a small group of peaceful protestors, most of whom are local residents and pensioners. Recently a 79-year-old local woman, who has a stall at the gates and serves tea and cakes to protesters, was surrounded by police officers and forcibly removed. At Kirby Misperton, even the tea lady gets kettled. This unprecedented level of military-style policing to facilitate the activities of a private energy company is indicative of one thing – the determination of the Government to force fracking upon unwilling communities, come what may. But opposition continues to grow, with the latest government WAVE survey showing that only 16 per cent of people support fracking (the lowest figure on record) against 77 per cent who support renewable energy. Also, a recent YouGov survey shows only 14 per cent of women and 25 per cent of men would be happy living within five miles of a fracking site. In contrast, 65 per cent of people would be happy living near a wind farm. Worryingly for Thirsk and Malton MP (and ex-estate agent) Kevin Hollinrake, even a majority of Conservative voters (55 per cent) would be unhappy to live within five miles of a fracking well-site.
Meanwhile at Kirby Misperton, fracking will take place only half a mile from people’s homes. It doesn’t take a genius to work out the impact widespread fracking could have on the Yorkshire housing market, or the reasons why most people don’t want to live near fracking well-sites. It might be the fact that drilling and fracking will take place 24 hours a day, causing noise, air and light pollution. Maybe it’s the thought of thousands of HGVs rumbling past their homes.
Or perhaps it’s the potential health impacts, with peer-reviewed studies in the USA revealing that people living within one mile of a well-site have an increased risk of premature births, birth defects, childhood asthma, lung and skin disorders, heart problems and cancer. But, on the plus side, at least you should be able to find a police officer when you need one. The fracking industry talks about bringing new jobs to the region, even though most of these would be for itinerant specialists who move from well-site to well-site, not for local people. And the negative impact on sustainable industries like tourism and farming can be dramatic. In Queensland, where fracking is widespread, research shows that for every ten jobs created in the gas industry, eighteen have been lost in the agricultural sector. No wonder local farmers are prominent in the protests at Kirby Misperton. Meanwhile, offshore wind power costs in the UK have halved in two years, and is now cheaper than new nuclear. The cost of solar energy continues to fall year-on-year and is revolutionising economies around the world.
Sheffield recently saw the opening of a new mega-battery farm, which will store energy created by the renewables industry to provide back-up power to the grid. The idea that we need to produce fracked gas to make electricity, as Third Energy plan to do with gas produced at Kirby Misperton, is an energy policy from the dark ages. Renewables provide far more jobs than fracking, don’t contribute to climate change, costs are plummeting, the technology is ready and waiting, and it’s very popular with the public. What’s not to like? The Scottish government banned fracking after a public consultation and a wide-ranging independent inquiry. On announcing the ban, Paul Wheelhouse, the Scottish Energy minister, said fracking would cause long-lasting negative impacts on communities, damage public health and undermine the government’s plans to reduce climate emissions. Economists from KPMG estimated that fracking would only increase Scotland’s GDP by 0.1 per cent and cause environmental ruin in areas where it took place. Over 99 per cent of those who responded to the consultation were opposed to fracking – coincidentally the same percentage who opposed the planning application at Kirby Misperton. In contrast to Scotland’s sensible evidence-based approach, the British government blindly refuses to examine any recent evidence, claiming that ‘gold-standard regulations’ will miraculously save us from all the environmental, social and health impacts that have blighted this industry everywhere else in the world (where governments also claimed to have strict regulations in place). Scotland wasn’t convinced by this argument, and nor is the rest of the UK. It’s time to call a halt to fracking and embrace renewables, before Yorkshire is forced to suffer the consequences.