South Yorkshire campaign group declare victory after government withdraws support for fracking

A South Yorkshire campaign group who have spent the last six years protesting against fracking have declared victory, after the government confirmed it would no longer support the controversial process to extract shale gas.

Monday, 4th November 2019, 10:19 am
Pete Kennedy (l), Lisa Sayle and David Burley, of Frack Free South Yorkshire. Picture: Andrew Roe

In an announcement made on Saturday, the government confirmed fracking will not be able to continue in England because of ‘new scientific analysis’.

The announcement comes after a report by the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) found it is not currently possible to accurately predict the probability or magnitude of earthquakes linked to fracking operations.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said last week he had ‘very considerable anxieties’ about the issue of shale gas extraction.

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And the Government now says it will end its support for the process, and further proposals to change the planning process for fracking sites will no longer be taken forward.

But Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom made it clear on that the ‘moratorium’ imposed after the OGA’s damning report was only in place ‘until the science changes’.

Members of Frack Free South Yorkshire have been campaigning against fracking, and applications for testing to begin in the area, for the last six years.

Such applications have been made in Woodsetts, Rotherham and Marsh Lane, on the edge of Sheffield.

Frack Free South Yorkshire co-founder David Burley said the group regarded the government’s unexpected U-turn as ‘vindication of all of the arguments we have made against fracking over the last six years’.

He continued: “We have always said that fracking was unsafe, and finally the government have realised we were right...it’s been a long six-year campaign by us and other groups across the country to raise awareness of it, and to point out all of the inherent problems with fracking.”

David said that while the government’s decision to withdraw support for fracking should be regarded as good news, it is only a ‘moratorium’ and does not necessarily mean this is the last we will see of plans for fracking in England.

“There are people already saying it’s very strange that this has been brought in just before an election. But we’re not going to down tools. And our message is: if you want to frack, we’ll be back.”

Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council (RMBC) turned down applications made by INEOS for permission to carry out exploratory drilling in Woodsetts in two separate occasions.

A public inquiry was held in June, after INEOS appealed to the national planning inspectorate to overturn RMBC’s decision.

In the village of Marsh Lane, INEOS won permission to begin exploratory drilling last August. But no work had begun prior to the government’s announcement.

Lee Rowley Conservative MP for North East Derbyshire has led calls in parliament for fracking to be banned, and has campaigned against the decision to allow exploratory drilling in Marsh Lane.

"North East Derbyshire - WE DID IT! Tonight the Government has announced it will no longer go ahead with fracking. Thanks to every single resident in or near to Marsh Lane who has fought for so long to achieve this outcome today! We said no - and we meant it!"

Fracking had been expected to feature strongly in the campaign for the December 12 General Election.

A recent report by the National Audit Office found that Government plans to establish the shale gas industry in the UK were taking longer than expected amid public concern over the effects of fracking on the environment and public health.

Protests have resulted at sites across the country and are estimated to have cost public bodies at least £32.7 million since 2011.

Shadow housing secretary John Healey welcomed the move but noted that the Conservatives are ‘playing catch-up now’ with Labour's opposition to the process, which was to feature prominently in the campaign.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, the Labour MP for Wentworth and Dearne said: "This appears to be temporary.

"This may not be a real reprieve. You've got to remember that Boris Johnson once said he wanted to leave no stone unturned and no stone unfracked, so this I fear could be a gambit at the start of the election and we may see that he does something different to what he says now."

The Liberal Democrats said that while a Government ‘moratorium’ on fracking was welcome, it did not mean that the practice would be banned.

Lib Dem former energy secretary Ed Davey, said: "Liberal Democrats back an immediate ban now - given the evidence we are now in a climate emergency.

"The law Liberal Democrats passed to protect communities from earthquakes and seismic tremors caused by fracking has done a lot to prevent the Conservatives pressing ahead with fracking.

"But this belated, eve of election policy pause won't distract voters from the Tories' shocking record on the environment - not least the Prime Minister's, when he lobbied to relax air pollution laws.

"The Tories are about as eco-friendly as a dustbin fire."