Cameron's real climate policy: promise the sky, frack the Earth

| 3rd December 2015
The Upton Community Protection Camp in Cheshire on 17th November, due to be evicted tomorrow, 4th December. Photo: Upton Community Protection Camp via Facebook.
The Upton Community Protection Camp in Cheshire on 17th November, due to be evicted tomorrow, 4th December. Photo: Upton Community Protection Camp via Facebook.
On Monday Cameron was waxing lyrical on climate change at COP21 in Paris, writes Natalie Bennett. But his true colours will be revealed tomorrow as a long established anti-fracking camp in Cheshire is set for eviction: all part of the plan for a new generation of gas-fired power stations that will blow the UK's emissions targets.
The government's fracking fantasy - its idea that fracked gas can provide much of the supply for these new gas power stations - is clearly alive and well, despite the strong public resistance and the scant progress the industry has made.

In theory, David Cameron and his government are desperately concerned about climate change and keen for action. In fact, he said so again on Monday in a bold speech at COP21:

"What I'm saying is that instead of making excuses tomorrow to our children and grandchildren, we should be taking action against climate change today. What we are looking for is not difficult, it is doable and therefore we should come together and do it."

Quite. And number one on the 'do it' list is to leave fossil fuels underground where they come from. Because if we go digging, fracking and pumping them out till they're all gone, the climate is done for.

So what does Cameron want to do with the UK's oil and gas? Exploit them to the last drop and puff. Create a legally binding obligation on regulators and drillers to maximise oil and gas 'recovery' in the North Sea. Over-rule local councils in England that turn down planning applications to frack for gas.

And now a new confrontation is looming over fracking, one that's surely set to hit England's headlines tomorrow. The Upton Community Protection Camp, the longest in existence, faces an eviction notice from a proposed test drilling site in Cheshire.

I say England because this isn't currently an issue in Scotland or Wales, which have moratoriums on fracking, as do the Netherlands, Romania and Germany. It isn't an issue in France or Bulgaria either; they've banned it outright. It's one area of energy policy - among many others - in which the Cameron government is swimming against the international tide.

85% of local people oppose fracking

The Upton camp has quite a history, both in its location and its politics. On April 4th 2014 the protectors, with strong local community support, moved on to a field near Chester, just east of Chester Zoo and less than 2km northeast of the village whose name it bears.

That followed a march by local residents, more than 100-strong, the previous month, demonstrating local opposition to a proposed test well for gas drilling. (And this isn't an area with a strong history of political activity on the streets.)

A couple of weeks later, I first visited it, meeting one campaigner I remember well for her political journey. She told me she'd always voted Tory, but after the camp arrived on her doorstep she'd not only informed herself about fracking, but also about climate change, and had now become a committed campaigner, and Green Party voter in the then-approaching European election.

On a visit last month, I found even more locals had strengthened in their views. A survey that reached 2,800 local residents found 85% opposed to fracking and only 5% in favour. That's not that far from the national view, with a recent survey finding only 20% in favour of fracking, while 80% of people are in favour of solar energy.

The timing of the eviction notice - 4th December - means this is likely to hit the news with particular force. It's in the middle of the COP21 Paris Climate Talks, as the world seeks to establish of global approach to climate sense, to living within the limits of our one fragile planet, which means we need to leave at least two-thirds of our known fossil fuel reserves in the ground if we're to avoid catastrophic runaway climate change.

A tangle of corporate acquisitions

Planning permission for drilling was first applied by Composite Energy, a private Scottish company in July 2010. Composite Energy was subsequently acquired by Dart Energy, an Australian company.

Then it was acquired by IGas, a private British company whose name is most associated with the hugely controversial Barton Moss drilling in Salford, accompanied by extremely heavy-handed policing by the Greater Manchester force.

That corporate history highlights one of the many concerns of campaigners - that fracking companies are supposed to have legal responsibility if anything goes wrong, even after the well is capped, but companies come and go like the breeze - and can easily bail into bankruptcy is faced with large clean-up bills.

Then of course there's the risk of the need for a clean up. In Australia, 'exclusion zones' of 2km protect homes and schools - yet within that radius at Upton there are schools that teach more than 3,000 pupils, as well as a similar number of residents. The aquifer from which Chester Zoo draws most of its water is also within that zone.

Yet here, in the middle of idyllic but well-populated countryside - with more than 3,000 people living within a 2 km radius of the proposed drilling - IGas proposes to look for more fossil fuel reserves.

That's despite the well-documented issue of the 'carbon bubble' - the fact the value of our stock markets (and our pension funds that haven't yet divested from fossil fuels) is reliant on the very same fossil fuels that we can't take out of the ground. IGas wants to add to that.

The real action is on the ground and at the well-head

The threatened eviction is also newsworthy as it comes just after Amber Rudd's heavily trailed energy policy 'reset' - in which she

  • made the welcome announcement of the end of the use of disastrously polluting coal for electricity generation in Britain (if somewhat slower than might have been hoped);
  • but continued with the government's "dash for gas" - determination to build gas-fired power stations even though if we're to meet our legally-binding carbon limits we can only use them a fraction of the time, and then only until 2030, when we need to fully decarbonise our electricity supply.

The government's fracking fantasy - its idea that fracked gas can provide much of the supply for these new power stations - is clearly alive and well, despite the strong public resistance and scant progress the industry has made. Even pro-fracking industry experts I've met don't expect it to yield a significant supply.

The Upton community has expressed its view - very loudly and clearly - yet it seems neither the drilling company or the government is listening.

I expect to see non-violent resistance to the eviction - and the Green Party - which has always understood that non-violent direct action is sometimes necessary when our democracy fails - will back that.

So watch this space - and expect to see Upton in the news.



Natalie Bennett is the leader of the Green Party of England & Wales.

Facebook: Upton Community Protection Camp.

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