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Why the Tories want Fracking

While the bulk of the commentariat have picked up on the recall plans in yesterday’s Queen’s speech, the government’s single-minded pursuit of fracking has caused less excitement. Philip Pearson of the TUC sums it up:

  • Removing the responsibility for companies to notify individual landowners of their intention to frack.
  • Underground access: proposing changes to trespass laws that would give fracking companies the right to drill under homes and businesses
  • without permission.
  • Proposing to introduce “standard” environmental permits which will normally remove the right of local people to be consulted.
  • Failing to consult on planning practice guidance which means planning rules override the interests of communities.

Let’s call this what it is: a fracker’s charter.

It is an absolute failure of our politics that the close relationship between the Tories and the fossil fuel lobby is a) not widely known about, and b) seized upon by the opposition. Evidence isn’t hard to find. He who pays the piper …

A lot of political opinion about fracking is informed by the stupidest of stupid empiricism. It really goes no deeper than “oh look, the American economy is enjoying cheaper fuel bills and a manufacturing renaissance thanks to shale oil and gas – let’s have some of that!” That US shale has been consumed domestically because the export infrastructure doesn’t exist, that the UK’s geology is more complex, that fracking will not reduce fuel bills is barely, if at all recognised by the government. And this is before you start talking about subsidence, ground water poisoning, carbon emissions and climate change. You can only conclude their ignorance is studied, a stance that not so much borders but trespasses fully into the willful.

In the Tories case, their zeal for fracking, their granting of no-holds-barred rights to their mates has an undercurrent of desperation to it. In their more honest moments, away from the microphones and earwigging of the press, Dave, Osborne, and the rest know that the much-trumpeted “fastest-growing economy in Europe” is lop-sided and based on fundamental weaknesses. Selling houses to each other is not the recipe for a sustained recovery. But unleashing fracking ticks a number of boxes for this most short-termist, poll-obsessed of governments. It rings the bell for energy independence and (non-existent) bill decreases; it employs new people in primary industry, contributing to some rebalancing metric or another; and every exploratory well counts toward those practically deified GDP figures. In short, a rapid spate of exploratory drills and building of a shale infrastructure helps compensate for the structural economic weaknesses this government has done nothing to address.

The thinking is that economic growth will save their bacon next May, so they are scrambling for every positive indicator they can find. In their haste, however, they have overlooked how fracking – at least its initial wave – will be blighting the South East, the one English region that has consistently awarded them poll leads this parliament. Hence not only is the Tory party, as the preferred party of the ruling class, utterly incapable of attending to the long-term interests of British capital, it is dangerously cavalier about its own narrow interests.

Let’s make sure fracking does them some serious damage before a single drill is sunk.

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