Truss ‘held back’ on fracking risk

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Published: Thursday 2nd July 2015 by The News Editor

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The Environment Secretary has been urged to apologise to communities facing fracking for “holding back” evidence of the risks of shale exploration in rural areas.

And campaigners have called for fracking to be put on hold in the UK while a “genuinely independent, qualified body” reviews all the risks associated with the controversial process of extracting gas and oil.

A draft report from the Environment Department (Defra) said f racking could reduce house prices, increase traffic, produce deafening noise for residents and damage the landscape in rural communities.

But potential negative impacts of fracking were obscured when a heavily-redacted version of the internal report was published last summer by Defra in response to a request under environmental information laws.

They only emerged when Defra was forced by the Information Commissioner to publish in full the document, which it did on the day a major report recommending a third runway for Heathrow was brought out.

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said the report added weight to the case against shale gas extraction in Britain, and accused the Government of conducting itself “appallingly” in holding back the negative information.

She called on Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss to apologise to communities facing the possibility of fracking.

Among the deleted sections of the draft report were suggestions that house prices could fall by up to 7% in close proximity to shale gas exploration sites, while rental prices in the area could be pushed up by people coming to work on the developments.

Properties located within up to five miles from fracking operations could face additional insurance costs to cover losses in case of explosion on-site, the study suggested.

While the redacted report flagged up the jobs opportunities created by fracking, the un-redacted version sounds a note of caution, warning it was less clear how sustainable shale gas investments would be and if rural communities could take advantage of them.

Rural community businesses relying on a quiet natural and unpolluted region, such as tourism, fishing, agriculture, organic farming, hunting and outdoor recreation could suffer losses as shale gas developments brought increased industrialisation, it said.

The entire section of the report that deals with environmental impacts of shale gas exploration had originally been redacted.

The full version deals with the impacts on water, including contaminated surface water which could affect human health, and warns the “potential impacts on water resource availability, aquatic habitats and ecosystem and water quality is uncertain”.

It also draws on evidence from the US that residents near fracking sites “may experience deafening noise” as well as light pollution that affects sleeping patterns and noxious odours from venting gases that harm local air quality.

Ms Lucas said: ” It’s no surprise at all that the Government has been so reluctant to release this damning report.

“The evidence in this report – that local communities could suffer from deafening noise pollution, surface water contamination and hikes in insurance costs – adds further weight to the growing case against fracking in Britain.

“The Government has conducted itself appallingly in holding back this crucial evidence.

“The Environment Secretary should now offer a full apology to communities facing the threat of fracking and guarantee that such deceitful behaviour won’t happen again in the future.”

Daisy Sands, Energy and Climate Campaigner at Greenpeace UK, which fought to get the report released, said: ” One of the reasons why fracking’s popularity has been plummeting is that the British public can spot when they’re being misled by politicians acting as cheerleaders for an industry.

“The Government need to step back from their position as PR agents for the frackers and put the whole project on pause while a genuinely independent, qualified body reviews all of the evidence on the risks from fracking, including the body of studies which persuaded New York to permanently ban the technique.

“Trying to bluff, bully and bribe communities into accepting fracking has failed, and sticking with that approach will just erode trust in the Government even further.

“It’s time to have a grown-up discussion about fracking as it really is, and stop the sales pitch that no-one believes any more.”

The Government has gone “all out” for shale gas development in the UK, in the hope that it could replicate the shale boom in the US, boost jobs and the economy, bring down energy prices and make the country less reliant on foreign imports.

But opponents have raised fears that the process of extracting gas by hydraulic fracturing – or fracking – causes earthquakes, can pollute water supplies, could lead to inappropriate development in the countryside and damage house prices.

Published: Thursday 2nd July 2015 by The News Editor

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