law

Today, a dramatic next-move in its United Kingdom anti-fracking campaign, saw Friends of the Earth escalate the fight against the Environment Agency (EA) granting of a Lancashire fracking permit to Cuadrilla, to the High Court. The environmental lobbying group is challenging the company’s fracking rights at its Preston New Road site despite the EA’s last-minute’ greenlighting of Cuadrilla’s shale gas extraction in July 2018.

This was a surprise move, given that public support for fracking had fallen to an all-time low of around 14%, according to a 2017/18 Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) survey. At the time, the energy minister, Claire Perry, justified the decision by citing the importance – and key strategic role – of shale gas in the country’s future energy mix as a critical lever for energy security.

Friends of The Earth has said that EA has failed in its duty to ensure that adequate technology and infrastructure are in place to sufficiently mitigate against negative environmental impact during the extraction process. While the EA has claimed that “Gold Standard” regulation would make the fracking safe, the campaigners believe that the EA’s refusal to consider new, safer, technologies such as a technique called electrocoagulation’, when it issued a permit to Cuadrilla, is a dereliction of its responsibilities to the people and the natural environment of the United Kingdom.

The High Court challenge addresses both the case to proceed, and what additional operational and governance requirements should be stipulated within the permit framework should that permission to proceed stand. Key to the concerns raised is the fact that the government appears to have de-prioritised its renewable energy programme in favour of wide-scale fracking. This disregards the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report recommendation that renewable energy needs to supply 70-80% of the United Kingdom’s energy by 2050 to achieve critical identified climate change mitigation and adaptation measures.

Another concern outlined by Friends of the Earth about this decision to support a whole new fossil fuel industry, is that there appears to be little ability to implement effective monitoring and implementation of environmental impact mitigation measures. In fact, at the Preston New Road site where fracking commenced in October 2018, the local community have already endured 36 small earthquakes in the three weeks following fracking commencement.

Tony Bosworth, Friends of the Earth spokesperson stated his fears that the government aimed to roll out fracking but appeared unable to properly regulate activity at even this one site. He entered a plea for a reconsideration of renewables. This legal battle will be watched closely by Chester solicitors and others in the region.

While it is laudable that the government is focused on securing Britain’s electricity supply for future generations, energy sector experts the world over are adamant on the requirement for countries to develop a well-rounded energy mix that looks at sustainable base-load supply through environmentally responsible technologies. Shale gas extraction through fracking is globally contentious and has met stringent public opposition in many countries from first world leaders such as United States to emerging markets such as South Africa.

Until energy sector players can irrefutably demonstrate their commitment to undertaking the extraction of this natural shale gas in the most environmentally responsible method available, impediments to the operations of fracking companies – such as todays Friends of the Earth challenge in Lancashire – may continue to be a regular part of our social and political landscape. A ruling on the Cuadrilla matter is due imminently.