Not content with polluting our air and water and causing immeasurable harm to both the environment and health, the fracking industry has now come up with a novel idea: the consumer should pay for the polluting process as well.
Two of the top utility companies in the American state of Florida, Duke Energy and Florida Power & Light, have added what the local press are calling “fuel to the fires” of the fracking debate by arguing that the cost of fracking should not be borne by the companies’ shareholders but by their customers.
And we are not talking small change here. We are talking hundreds of millions of dollars per year.
Earlier this month, before the state Public Service Commission, Florida Power and Light (FPL) sought permission to charge its customers up to $750 million a year for exploratory fracking in Oklahoma. The Commission is due to discuss the proposal and make a decision this Thursday.
FPL wants to shift the costs and risk to customers by using Florida’s “fuel clause”, a state law passed way back in 1980 that permits power companies to pass along the expense of fuel to run power plants.
It its filings, it contends that striking a sure supply of gas will establish “a predictable, reliable and low-cost fuel supply for FPL and its customers” which would “ensure more stable prices for the gas FPL burns in its power plants.”
The idea has immediately been criticised by critics of the industry: “I have never heard of anything like this,” said Sharon Wilson, a gas and oil expert with Earthworks. “But I guess nothing should surprise me anymore.”
It is believed that this is the first time such a proposal has been put forward, although earlier this year proposals put before the North Carolina legislature would have spent taxpayer money on advertising the state as a good site for fracking as well as paying for exploratory wells.
Fortunately the proposals did not pass.
But the US is not the only place where consumers and tax payers will be picking up the tag on fracking.
In the UK, hundreds of boreholes are also set to be drilled in order to try and persuade a sceptical public that fracking is safe.
The cost – to be borne by the taxpayer – will be in excess of a hundred million dollars.
The proposals have been condemned by the Green party MP Caroline Lucas “There’s no justification for using public money to help the fracking industry pull the wool over people’s eyes. It’s another desperate attempt to quell legitimate public concern and may further undermine public trust.”
Meanwhile, Tony Bosworth, energy campaigner for Friends of the Earth in the UK accused the British government of “behaving like a love-struck teenager, showering the shale gas industry with gifts.”
It remains to be seen how many gifts the Florida authorities will offer the fracking industry on Thursday.