Want to know how fracking will affect you? Sorry, that’s a state secret! by Geoffrey Lean, August 11th, 2014, The Telegraph
Another week, another fracking fiasco. The Government has just published a report on the likely effects of the drilling on Britain’s countryside communities – including its possible impact on house prices – that is so heavily redacted it might instead be devoted to a military assessment of options for intervention in Iraq.
Rightly or wrongly, it can only raise suspicions in Middle Britain that ministers and the industry have a lot to hide on how fracking will affect its vital interests.
The report – Shale Gas: Rural Economy Impacts, published (if that’s the word) by the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – accepts that “large numbers of rural communities may be affected by the expansion of shale gas activities in the North East, West and southern regions of England”. But it then effectively treats how they will be impacted as top secret.
The extent to which the report has been blacked out is almost paranoically Putinesque. Some 58 passages appear to have been redacted in just 13 pages, entirely emasculating some sections. Three paragraphs out of six seem to have been cut from the section on effects on house prices, two out of four from the one on those on local services.
The report’s conclusions are reduced to eleven lines – overwhelmingly devoted to the financial inducements ministers and the industry are offering councils and communities that accept fracking – surrounded by 16 redacted passages. Most ludicrous of all, the report says it has examined a third “major social impact” besides the impacts on property prices and local services, but refuses to tell us what it is, let alone what was found: the section’s title and all its 12 paragraphs have been entirely excised.
But it is the section on house prices that will doubtless cause the most alarm. This is the only place in what remains of the report that any estimates are given of ill-effects from fracking (by contrast optimistic figures of the numbers of jobs that might be created are common). It reports several studies that showed values decreasing in a range from 3 to 14 per cent near where wells are drilled (though one suggested that they increased in Pennsylvania when the property had mains water supply).
Many householders may blanch even at those figures. And they are bound to suspect, rightly or not, that the redacted paragraphs contain far worse estimates of what the losses are likely to be in the British shires. Indeed, people near planned drilling sites in Lancashire are already reporting that their homes are so blighted that they are not able to sell them at all.
Pressure is mounting on ministers to publish the report uncensored – and not just from the inevitable green pressure groups. Allister Scott, Professor of Environmental and Spatial Planning at Birmingham City University, accuses the Government of “suppressing evidence”, and adds: “Redactions should only be used when information is against the public interest, or for confidentiality. That does not apply. The public interest is that we have clear information about impacts of policy.”
But doubts are growing, not just as a result of mounting opposition, but because the resources are looking less bountiful than had been thought. Last month the British Geological Survey reported that the South of England – recently hyped by ministers as ripe for a bonanza – contains no significant amounts of shale gas and only limited reserves of shale oil, which are thought to be hard to exploit.
Expectations have been heavily scaled back in Poland, Europe’s other leading proponent of fracking. And even in the United States estimates of the recoverable reserves in the Monterey Shale – once thought to be the richest in the country – have been recently slashed by 96 per cent.
In a provocative article last week, Tim Morgan, a former global head of research at brokers Tullett Prebon, even suggested that, in future, “shale will be recognised as this decade’s version of the dotcom bubble”. He claimed that the reason fracking boomed in the United States is that it was overhyped, leading to over-investment, and a glut of wells and supplies which drove down prices. But, he added, shale wells cost almost twice as much as ordinary ones and production from them falls off “very quickly indeed” (by at least 60 per cent in the first year, compared to a typical 7-10 per cent decrease in conventional ones”) and so “will never be profitable”. [Emphasis added]
An inconvenient truth? UK government censors state-sanctioned report on fracking by RT, August 11, 2014
As the government maintains its refusal to offer compensation to homeowners situated near proposed shale gas drilling sites, concerned citizens and campaigners are demanding the release of the full, unabridged study.
Following a Freedom of Information (FOI) request tendered to the government, a draft of ‘Shale Gas: Rural Economy Impacts’ was recently published with extensive sections of the text missing. One particular section of the report, which examines the impact of fracking on house prices, has three entire segments missing.
The government report only referenced research considered ‘robust’, and noted difficulty in comparing UK locales with overseas districts. It also claimed that the confluence of factors, which drive housing prices upwards or downwards are complex and not easily disentangled.
Notably redacted portions of the study spanned its executive summary, a section on ‘Hydrocarbon reserves’, another on ‘investment and job creation’, a third documenting areas ‘likely to be affected by shale gas licensing’, a segment relating to fracking’s economic impacts on rural communities, and large segments relating to the ‘social impacts’ of shale gas drilling on rural locales.
The controversial report was released by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) in the aftermath of the government’s decision to open up two-thirds of England’s landmass to a fresh round of bidding for fracking licenses.
‘Number of redactions comical’
Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne say shale gas extraction harbors the potential to enrich the UK’s economy and decrease energy bills. But many MPs contest this view, expressing deep concerns that fracking will reap environmental damage, disfigure the landscape, and decrease the value of home prices in their local constituencies.
Caroline Lucas, an MP and Green Party representative for Brighton Pavilion, condemned the censoring of the government’s report, warning it would compound public concern about the dangers of shale gas drilling. “It appears that the government has a great deal to hide with regards to the risks of fracking for local communities,” she said.
“The number of redactions would be almost comical if it weren’t so concerning. What are the economic, social and environment impacts and effects upon housing and local services, agriculture and tourism that the government is so keen to withhold from us?”
Lucas cautioned that the public has a right to know the truth about fracking, and called for “absolute transparency” with respect to government research that examines its dangers.
In a move to offer compensation to people who may be affected by shale gas drilling in their locales, the government has suggested a meager sum of 100,000 pounds in “community benefits” be divided among those living near such sites. But Barbara Richardson, of the Roseacre Awareness Group that opposes fracking in Roseacre, Lancashire, said this offer was an “insult,” as certain homeowners in her district are currently unable to sell their properties.
“People do not want community benefits, they want restitution,” Richardson emphasized.
Widespread calls for compensation
Labour MP for Worsely and Eccles South, Barbara Keeley, has joined the chorus of campaigners, politicians and UK citizens calling for compensation for those whose houses may depreciate in value as a result of fracking. “I know that people living near to the Barton Moss IGas drilling site are very concerned about loss of value in their house prices due to the drilling. They are also concerned that house insurance premiums may increase substantially,” she told the Guardian. “One couple trying to sell their home told me that no one came to view the house at all since the drilling started. The government should consider the need for compensation for residents negatively affected by shale gas operations,” she added. [Emphasis added]
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