UK Charity Slams Government Support for Shale
Combining two topics currently dominating the headlines, British charity Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) says the UK government’s support for fracking on a major scale in England will exacerbate the problem of marine litter and destroy the countryside at the same time.
The amount of plastics waste in the oceans is already substantial. According the latest estimates , by Ocean Cleanup, a young Dutch company that has built a seagoing vessel designed to scoop up plastics floating in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP, around 1.8 million trillion pieces of plastics waste weighing 80,000 t are estimated to be in the gyre. This is regarded as the largest accumulation worldwide.
Daniel Carey-Dawes, a campaigner at CPRE, said the government “risks shooting itself in the foot in its fight against plastic.” Beyond environmental problems, he said fracking also poses “grave risks” to human health and at the same time contributes to the production of new plastics.
No fracking wells are in operation in the UK at present. Local councils for the most part have turned thumb downs on applications for exploration by companies such as Ineos, Cuadrilla and Third Energy. Ineos, however, has been energized by two recent successes, as the national planning inspectorate overruled decisions by councils in Yorkshire and Derbyshire, and allowed test drilling.
In support of the shale gas industry, the UK in May of this year proposed easing the rules, allowing exploration companies to drill test sites in England without applying for planning permission. At the time, the government suggested that fracking sites could be classed as nationally significant infrastructure. This would mean approval being given at a national rather than local level, bypassing local councils altogether.
The legislative proposals additionally would also provide funding of 1.6 million to local planning authorities to speed up applications over the next two years. Parallel to this, a new office of shale environmental regulator is to be created.
Announcing the plans in a statement to Parliament, UK Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Greg Clark, said he wished to “reiterate the government’s view that there are potentially substantial benefits from the safe and sustainable exploration and development of our onshore shale gas resources.”
In early 2018, the UK pledged to eliminate avoidable plastic waste within 25 years and also warned that plastic pollution of the oceans would increase threefold in seven years unless action was taken.
Just ahead of a meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government in London in April, Prime Minister Theresa May announced plans for a £61.4 million fund to fight plastics pollutions at sea. Simultaneously, she said the UK would take steps toward curbing single-trip plastics.
While a government spokesman told The Guardian that there is “no correlation between shale gas exploration and increased plastics production,” the newspaper pointed to the American Chemistry Council’s repeated calculations of how much new plastics capacity arising in the Gulf region will be fed by shale gas-derived ethylene, as well as to statements by Ineos that it needs locally sourced shale to make ethane as feedstock for plastics.
An Ineos spokesperson told the newspaper that CPRE’s arguments against shale are “naive” and take no account of the “potential energy crisis” facing the UK. Ineos also noted that it supports a circular economy model to minimize any impact on the environment.