Mining and Undermining: The Legitimacy of the UK Government in Pursuing Fracking

by pmoseley on October 2, 2017 - 9:00pm

 

In 2016, the UK government overturned a decision made by Lancashire County Council (LCC) to reject proposals made by Cuadrilla to frack for shale gas in a site near Blackpool. However, the Guardian reports that on the 27th of July 2017, Cuadrilla broke planning permissions by delivering a drilling rig at night, prompting the local council to threaten legal action against the company, and protestors to accuse them of trying to be covert and avoid protestors (Vaughan 2017). Fracking activity was and still is protested daily by residents, critics from elsewhere in the country and environmental groups such a Friends of the Earth. Cuadrilla claimed that the move was a way of minimising disruption, as protests have caused road closures. Fracking began on the site in August, with Cuadrilla facing no reported penalties for their rule breach.

Cuadrilla is an oil and gas company based in the UK. They were a source of fracking controversy previously, when their drilling operations caused two earthquakes in Lancashire (White, 2011). The national government have introduced stricter regulations and planning frameworks in response to this (DBEIS 2017), but claims of fracking being safe are questionable. There is still much uncertainty surrounding the science of fracking, meaning that the odds of negative incidents and environmental effects are incalculable (Mitchell 2015). Therefore, there is the question of whether benefits purported to come from fracking outweigh risks. Protestors and critics do not think so, whereas advocates believe that the economic benefit from employment, energy security and industry is enough to justify exploratory fracking. This displays cognitive conflict, as both groups are interpreting data and research to come to very different conclusions.

Interest conflict (Wynne in Mitchell 2015) is also present. Evidently LCC did not believe that Cuadrilla’s operations would be beneficial to the area, however the national government, situated hundreds of miles away, overruled them. This begs the question of whether the government believes fracking is in the public’s best interest or whether they are pursuing it for inequitable economic gain and foreign investment, and therefore why the residents of the town in Lancashire should be the ones to experience the direct consequences.

Public support for fracking operations is at an all-time low (DBEIS 2017). With so much opposition, it could be argued that the British public are not giving the government a mandate for fracking. Consider this along with the fact that the country is governed by a minority government, and the legitimacy of the state in managing natural resources in this way begins to look very unstable. Currently in power is the Conservative party which leans to the political right and employs neoliberal policies. Since their election in 2010, they have had a poor record on environmental issues, instead loosening restrictions for environmental protection. Amongst their environmental actions are merging the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) with the Department of Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (DBEIS) (DECC 2016), shortening procedures to gain permits for “low risk oil and gas activities” (DBEIS 2017) and in 2014 changing trespassing laws to allow shale gas drilling 300m below ground without landowner’s permission (Carrington, 2014). These measures portray the government’s attitude towards the environment; it is a business opportunity to be exploited for economic gain. The trespassing laws disregard public opinion and the voices of people whom they were elected to represent and work in the interests of, which is also shown in Cuadrilla’s avoidance of protestors. Dismantling the DECC shows a lack of commitment to tackling climate change and long-term thought for socioeconomic life. The government seem to be inadvertently undermining their own legitimacy to manage natural resources and make environmental decisions, as the more the public disagrees with their decisions, the more unstable their claim to control and the public’s acceptance of it becomes.

References:

Carrington, Damian. 2014. “Fracking trespass law changes move despite huge public opposition.” The Guardian September 26. Retrieved October 2, 2017 (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/sep/26/fracking-trespass-la...)

Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. 2017. Retrieved October 2, 2017. (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/about-shale-gas-and-hydraulic...)

Department of Energy and Climate Change. 2016. Retrieved October 2, 2017. (https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-of-energy-climate...)

Mitchell, Bruce. 2015. Resource and Environmental Management in Canada: Addressing Conflict and Uncertainty (5th edition). Don Mills, Ontario: Oxford University Press.

Vaughan, Adam. 2017. “Fracking drilling rig brought on site overnight ‘to avoid protests.’” The Guardian July 27. Retrieved October 2, 2017 (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jul/27/fracking-drilling-ri...)

White, Garry. 2011. “Cuadrilla admits drilling caused Blackpool earthquakes.” The Telegraph November 2. Retrieved October 2, 2017. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/energy/8864669/Cuadrilla...)