Today’s Government announcement allowing local councils to retain 100% of business rates paid by fracking site operators, alongside industry proposals to pay local communities £100,000 lump sums and 1% of revenues for each drilling rig (1), have been condemned by the Kent Green Party as “fracking bribery”.
Green Party Councillor and Parliamentary Candidate for Thanet South, Ian Driver, said: “The Government is preparing to hand out cash sweeteners and inducements in advance of the Petroleum Exploration and Development Licensing (PEDL) round, taking place later this year.”
In Kent only two sites, one to the west and one to the east of the county, are currently licensed for oil and gas exploration. But Driver warns that maps produced by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (2) show that “every last square inch of Kent’s land will be brought under the PEDL licensing scheme”, allowing companies such as Cuadrilla, notorious for its Balcombe drilling site, to purchase exploration rights anywhere in the county, providing they have the permission of the landowner.”
The Government predicts a strong interest in the licence sales, especially in the South East. In a recent interview with the Telegraph, Sevenoaks MP and Minister of State for Energy, Michael Fallon, said that significant reserves of shale gas are likely to be found “right across the South. We’re talking about Wiltshire, Hampshire, Surrey, Sussex, into Kent” and that “households right across the South should prepare for gas fracking to begin in their areas (3)”.
Government reassurances that, if properly regulated, controversial fracking techniques can be carried out without danger are hotly disputed by Driver, who said: “There is strong and compelling evidence emerging from countries such as the USA and Australia, where fracking has been taking place for some time, that such procedures can never be carried out safely.
“Even the Government’s own Environmental Assessment highlights the dangers of fracking, including the astronomical demand for billions of cubic metres of water, much of which will become polluted by the extraction process, the danger to underground drinking water supplies (especially in Kent where 70% of drinking water comes from underground sources), the huge number of additional vehicle movements and congestion in the countryside, where many drilling rigs will be located, and the noise and atmospheric pollution associated with this process (4).”
Despite the large financial incentives, Driver predicts strong opposition to the expansion of gas exploration and extraction in Kent. “In East Kent, exploration company Coastal Oil and Gas Ltd was recently forced, by overwhelming public opposition, to withdraw three planning applications for exploratory drilling at Guston, Shepherdswell and Tilmanstone (5). Planning authority Kent County Council was inundated by hundreds of objections from local residents and all four Parish Councils covering the proposed drilling sites voted to oppose the plans.
“I expect to see many more examples of people power and community opposition developing across Kent and the rest of south-east England as the new licences are sold and planning applications to drill are submitted. Whatever the Government might say, and no matter how much they try to bribe local communities, most people don’t want their villages and towns disrupted and devastated by fracking, or the security of their water supplies put at risk. It’s too high a price to pay.
“The Green Party is the only national political party to oppose the extraction of shale and coal bed methane gas and the use of fracking processes. We will work with local communities across Kent to fight plans for drilling for gas.”