The British Government’s formal announcement today to consult on whether to offer between £10,000 to £20,000 to every household affected by fracking as part of a “Shale Wealth Fund” has been being met with increasing outrage and opposition.
The British Government argued in its consultation document that: “The Shale Wealth Fund, which could deliver up to £1 billion of funding, a proportion of which could be paid out to each community over 25 years, will ensure that the benefits of shale developments are shared by communities and regions in which the resource is developed”
It is progressively being seen as what it is: a desperate and cynical bribe that will divide communities across the UK. It comes as public support for fracking in the UK has reached an all-time low – at about 19 per cent. So the tactic seems simple: if you can’t beat them, bribe them.
The move by the new Prime Minster, Theresa May, comes straight of the public relations playbook to divide and rule and rip neighbours apart as some take industry cash, whilst others stand up for clean air, water and a clean energy future.
But with the opposition growing against the measure, and the details unravelling by the hour, it looks like it could well backfire against the Government.
Opposition politicians, environmental groups and local communities have lined up to speak out against the measure.
Barry Gardiner, the opposition Energy and Climate Change secretary said: “Does Theresa May really hold the British public in such high esteem that she thinks they can be bribed into fracking and a fossil fuel future?”
Doug Parr, the Greenpeace UK chief scientist, was equally dismissive: “The government has tried to sweeten the fracking pill with cash payments before, and it didn’t work. Over the last two years, public opposition has soared and support for shale has tanked. People’s concerns about climate change and their local environment cannot be silenced with a wad of cash.”
Tony Bosworth from Friends of the Earth added: “Local people won’t suddenly be bribed into accepting this unpopular practice, which poses risks to people and the environment.”
On the front-line of the fracking debate, communities are deeply opposed, too: The campaign group, Frack Free Ryedale appealed to communities in North Yorkshire to oppose the government’s plans to offer cash.
One local resident Sue Gough, who lives near the recently approved fracking site in Kirby Misperton, near Malton, in North Yorkshire said: “This is a cynical attempt by the Tories to bribe local people to accept fracking by offering them hard cash.
Coun Di Keal, Liberal Democrat member of Ryedale District Council, added: “This move smacks of desperation from a Tory government that is losing the democratic argument on fracking.”
Mike Hill, an anti-fracking campaigner from the other side of the Pennines in Lancashire, said it was “absolutely outrageous” that the government was now trying to “overrule” local communities who have previously vehemently rejected fracking.
Even industry experts have reacted “sceptically” to the proposals, with the payments labelled “a very subordinate sideshow” by Andrew Latham of energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie.
Indeed, it has now emerged that, even if fracking went ahead and was economically viable – which is yet uncertain – households would potentially have to wait five years to receive the payment, as it is conditional on production not exploration.
And if fracking did not prove viable, communities could have years of disruption with no financial reward at the end.
Indeed, as the Greenpeace Energy Desk point out: “In fact, the payments idea may not happen at all,” due to the lucrative tax breaks the fracking industry enjoy, so there will never be money to pay communities.