Greenpeace ‘fracks’ UK parliament as public inquiry starts

Campaign group installs mock fracking rig and drill in London on day independent panel review Lancashire applications begins

The UK Parliament building in Westminster (Pic: Flickr/Javier Díaz Barrera)

The UK Parliament building in Westminster (Pic: Flickr/Javier Díaz Barrera)

By Alex Pashley

Flood lights and truck noise greeted British lawmakers on Tuesday as Greenpeace brought the “local impacts of fracking to the heart of democracy”.

Activists set up a mock fracking rig in Parliament Square, Westminster, right under iconic Big Ben clock tower and flared bioethanol.

They were drawing attention to the start of a five-week public review into whether the controversial technology should be used at two drill sites in Lancashire, northwest England.

Industry lobby UKOOG criticised the stunt and said it gave a misleading picture about the scale of regulations that govern it. Greenpeace had likely broken the law by not obtaining a flaring permit, added chief executive Ken Cronin.

The independent Planning Inspectorate Inquiry comes after drilling company Cuadrilla appealed Lancashire County Council’s decision to stop hydraulic fracturing on traffic and noise grounds in June.

The government, which strongly supports the development of new shale gas reserves, will make the final decision after the inquiry concludes.

Critics of fracking say it could cause earth tremors, water pollution and lock in dependence on fossil fuels, raising carbon emissions.

Hannah Martin, Greenpeace campaigner told Climate Home: “We want to send a clear message to Greg Clark, the secretary of state [for communities and local government], and the government that their approach to fracking and their sort of bulldozing through of this technology won’t work, that local communities don’t want it, the British public don’t need it, and that our energy system can be secure without it.”

Tina Rothery, an anti-fracking activist from Blackpool said the risk to the health of her family posed by the technology motivated her to protest.

“I wouldn’t trust [PM David] Cameron for half an hour babysitting let alone the lifetime of my grandchild.”

Members of the public held different views.

One gentleman stressed shale gas provided energy security for the UK while renewables couldn’t be relied on.

“We need alternative forms of energy. We’re running out all the other ones. This sounds to me like a clean way of getting what we need.”

Another gentleman applauded Greenpeace for taking direct action and hoped it would influence lawmakers across the road.

Ken Cronin at UKOOG said in a statement: “This stunt this morning just gives an opportunity to reiterate how important regulation is for all industrial processes including oil and gas – I assume that Greenpeace did not obtain a flaring permit for their site in Westminster breaking the very rules that protect the environment and public health.

Fracking Parliament Square would need approval of four separate regulators including the Environment Agency, The Health and Safety Executive, The Oil and Gas Authority and the Local Mineral Planning Authority, UKOOG said.

And a developer would need to receive up to 8 environmental permits connected to 17 separate EU directives and the process would involve at least three separate public consultations.

“It is important to emphasise just how crucial gas is, and will remain, in our energy system, 84% of our homes are heated by gas; around one third of our electricity is generated by gas; and gas is a raw material that is used to make everything from fertilisers to plastic to toothpaste.

“We need to see more renewables that is without question. This country is currently suffering because we have a polarised debate about fossil fuels versus renewables versus nuclear – the reality is we need all of these.”

The Department of Energy and Climate Change has been approached for comment.

Interview: UK fracking furore will fizzle out says shale chief
John Ashton: Fracking in England only possible if it is imposed

Read more on: EU | Fossil Fuels |