Court Tosses out UK Fracking Guidance

13.03.2019 -

The British government’s efforts to promote shale gas keep getting more difficult. After a series of minor earth tremors last autumn mandated yet another interruption of exploration activity by Cuadrilla – the only company to have fracked a well to date – the High Court for England and Wales has now ruled that key aspects of the UK’s national planning policy flawed and the public consultation process unlawful.

The case concerns only England. The devolved governments of Scotland and Wales are free to make their own policy. Wales and Scotland both have a permanent moratorium on fracking.

Justice Ian Dove’s reference to climate change in his ruling is expected to make it easier for anti-fracking campaigners to raise environmental questions when objecting to planning permits granted for exploration sites. The national planning authority up to now has told local councils not to consider climate change when considering companies’ applications for drilling permits.

The most fundamental part of the judgment may be the one dealing with claims by the government and the shale industry that gas from fracking is a low-carbon source of fuel. Talk Fracking‘s lawsuit said that when revising its planning policy in July last year, the government should have considered new evidence from a report the group commissioned. This, it said, debunks authorities’ claim that fracked gas has a carbon footprint lower than imported LNG.

Just the opposite is true, the NGO said, adding that the government had misled Parliament when it touted shale gas as a bridge to a renewable energy future. In reality, Talk Fracking said, exploiting the unconventional gas would lead to the UK failing to meet its obligations under the Paris Climate Accord.

In the ruling, Justice Dove said London should have considered the evidence presented by Talk Fracking when revising its rules, as this was “capable of having a direct bearing upon a key element of the evidence for the proposed policy and its relationship to climate change effects.”

In a comment, Jonathan Marshall, head of analysis at the UK’s Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, said that with the UK’s electricity system almost free of coal, natural gas is now effectively the most carbon-intensive major source of power.

The court will now allow the government to present its arguments on what changes may be made to national planning policy framework to comply with the law.

Joe Corré, founder of Talk Fracking and son of British designer Vivienne Westwood, said the court has clarified both that the government “behaved irresponsibly and recklessly” and that its “pretend consultation” was a farce. Lawyers for the NGO have called for a full review of the government’s policy framework.