|(graphic courtesy of Greenpeace UK)|
In a conference speech of 2002, Theresa May said: "You know what some people call us - the nasty party." Nothing has changed in fourteen years. But it seems that Mrs May is still more intent on changing people's perceptions of the Conservatives than the party itself or its actions.
So whatever communities feel, the idea that Whitehall knows what is best for them persists. At the time of writing, it is clear that Whitehall is wrong. I have yet to obtain firm figures, but all the evidence is that fracking for oil and gas in Britain's more disorganised geology would be more expensive than the cost of extraction and processing in the plains of America. It would almost certainly be more than the $50/barrel of oil which the international market looks like settling around. Yet this is one of the Conservatives' justifications for encouraging fracking. The other is security of supply. So are they anticipating our being at war with further plunges in the value of sterling imminently?
As to safety, I believe the English protesters are looking at the wrong end of the process. As a report from the government's chief scientific adviser (https://royalsociety.org/topics-policy/projects/shale-gas-extraction/report/) shows, "The health, safety and environmental risks can be managed effectively in the UK". I do believe that UK regulations are tougher than the States'. While the fields are operational and earning revenue, the operators will be able to cover the running costs. The trouble comes when the installations are no longer financially viable.
The report says: "Well integrity is the highest priority. More likely causes of possible contamination include faulty wells." Experience in the States is that most contamination events result from faulty capping of abandoned wells. It is all too easy for companies to avoid paying for restitution, as we in Neath Port Talbot and other south Welsh communities have found to our cost. There is no sign that the Conservatives plan to close the loophole opened by the last Labour government which enabled those people to evade their responsibilities.
The report is full of "should"s and "must be"s but without political will they are not certain to be fulfilled.
Here, there is no guarantee that the Welsh government's moratorium (note, not a ban) on fracking will hold.