Protest, dodgy polling and censorship – UK fracking latest

Hundreds expected at Reclaim the Power anti-fracking camp amid “misleading” poll and government censorship claims

Protest at Balcombe last summer

Protest at Balcombe last summer

By Megan Darby

UK anti-fracking campaigners are gearing up for a second summer of action, in an ideological battle with government and industry.

Hundreds of people are expected to join the week-long Reclaim the Power camp near Blackpool on Thursday. More than 50 have signed up for the Tour de Frack, a cycle ride past fracking sites of northern England to Hull.

The protests come as an industry-sponsored poll finds 57% of people back fracking and a government poll puts support at 24%.

Meanwhile, the department for environment has been accused of censorship after publishing a heavily redacted draft report into the impact of fracking on the rural economy.

Round two

The debate over whether the UK should exploit its shale gas reserves has intensified since a protest in Balcombe, Sussex, last year propelled the subject into the public consciousness.

Government ministers are keen to promote the energy security benefits of developing a domestic source of gas. Shale wells would also bring in tax revenues.

Opponents say exploiting a new source of fossil fuels undermines the government’s commitment to tackling climate change. They also raise concerns about local environmental impacts such as the risk of groundwater contamination.

Studies by the British Geological Survey have shown the greatest reserves lie underneath northern England, in the Bowland shale.

This area, estimated to hold some 38 trillion cubic metres of gas, is the focus of this summer’s protests.

Reclaim the Power expects 1,000 people to take part in its camp at Preston New Road, one of exploration company Cuadrilla’s proposed fracking sites.

They will join a group of local grandmothers and mothers who have been occupying the field since 7 August.

Hannah Jones of Reclaim the Power said: “Our government pretends gas is a clean fuel, but we cannot afford drilling for any new fossil fuels if our children are to have a chance for a safe climate and sustainable future.

“Gas will only make the climate more unstable, the energy companies richer, and the rest of us poorer. We need affordable, democratically controlled, renewable energy now.”

When the camp finishes on 20 August, some demonstrators plan a four-day ride across the country to an active drilling site in Beverley, East Yorkshire.

The “Tour de Frack” will stop at Total Environmental Technology in Driffield, a service provider to the shale gas industry.

On 23 August, the riders will join a march against fracking in Hull.


A survey published by industry lobby group UK Onshore Oil and Gas on Monday found 57% of people were in favour of fracking and only 16% opposed.

Ken Cronin, chief executive of UKOOG, said: “Shale gas and renewables are complementary, and our survey confirms that the public would like to see a balanced mix that includes both sources of energy.”

Critics swiftly found fault with the poll, which was carried out by Populus.

Leo Barasi wrote in public opinion blog Noise of the Crowd it was “one of the most misleading poll findings I’ve ever seen”.

It asked a series of leading questions and only represented half of the argument, Barasi, a polling analyst, said.

“This isn’t an attempt to find out what the public think about fracking. It’s message testing.”

Indeed, the latest tracker survey by the government’s energy department depicts a far more divided public.

The public attitudes tracker, which tests opinion on a range of energy questions every three months, found 24% for shale gas extraction and 24% against. Almost half of respondents (47%) were neutral.

Of the nearly 23,000 individuals and organisations who responded to a consultation by the European Commission, 37.5% opposed any exploration of shale gas.

Some 28.9% supported fracking with “proper health and environmental safeguards” and 32.5% supported it “anyway”.


A draft government report released under Environmental Information Regulations showed evidence shale gas exploration could hit house prices near drilling sites and put pressure on local services.

Other impacts were redacted, however, leading Green Party MP Caroline Lucas to accuse the government of censorship.

The word “redacted” appears 62 times in the report, which also considers positive effects such as job creation.

In a letter accompanying the report, an official said the information was withheld to avoid the risk that “disclosure of early thinking could close down discussion”.

Lucas said: “It appears that the Government has a great deal to hide with regards to the risks of fracking for local communities. The number of redactions would be almost comical if it weren’t so concerning.”

She called for “absolute transparency” and said failure to publish the report in full “only increases people’s concerns”.


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