report by Ewan Nicolson
The government pushed out an announcement last week that over half of Britain – up to 37,000 square miles of land from Scotland to the South East of England – will be opened up to tender for energy companies to bid for fracking rights.
The land that companies will be able to search for shale oil and gas on includes countryside, cities, suburbs and even national parks in “exceptional circumstances”. Northdown Energy already owns a contract for fracking in Croydon, south London, whilst iGas holds a contract to search for shale gas in Liverpool.
All this comes as part of a wider Tory attack on the environment. Zero-carbon rules in house building have been “relaxed” in the name of deregulation. Former environment secretary Owen Patterson boasted in the press about standing up to “the Green Blob” – his bizarre description for those campaigning against environmental destruction.
David Cameron himself has dismissed concerns of anti-fracking campaigners and activists as “irrational” and based on a “religious” hostility to fossil fuels. Tory faux-green posturing, once pushed heavily, today amounts to little more the scribbled tree that makes up the party logo.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves pumping water mixed with toxic chemicals into the ground at high pressure in the hope of releasing trapped gas and oil. It leads to further fossil fuel dependence, contaminated water reserves and a host of other environmental problems.
So what is pushing Tory MPs into supporting this industry? A diagram that has been doing the rounds on the internet sheds light on this question, revealing the extent of links between Conservative politicians, fracking companies and “climate sceptic” groups promoting misinformation about the threat posed by carbon emissions. Investigative journalist Brendan Montague has recently tracked further links between the government and business leaders looking to get rich from fracking.
At the heart of this lies a political battle over what “saving our environment” really means. For the likes of Patterson this means culling woodland animals for the sake of our own consumption, whilst lining the pockets of wealthy industrialists at the expense of the bigger picture.
But there are signs the government is facing a backlash from its own supporters over fracking. Some 24 of the 31 constituencies represented by MPs in the cabinet will be affected by the latest policy announcement.
The original idea was that fracking would be confined to the “desolate North” as Lord Howell charmingly put it. Now it threatens the suburbs and country homes in Tory constituencies – leaving the Conservatives torn between serving the interests of capital and keeping its core voters happy.
This has consequences for socialists and environmental activists. It opens up a chance to ramp up campaigns against fracking and build support from a wide cross-section of society. And it gives us an opportunity to lay bare the contradictions between Tory rhetoric on the environment and the reality of the bigger interests that determine energy policy in Britain.