Spot the difference. Fracking, which is climate-polluting and unproven in the UK, gets “all-out” government backing, with ministers steamrolling over local opposition. Onshore windfarms, proven to be low-cost and low-carbon, get undermined by the government, with local opposition given power to block applications.
The decision by the communities secretary, Sajid Javid, to overturn Lancashire council’s rejection of Cuadrilla’s plan to drill four fracking wells in the county is, therefore, nothing short of hypocrisy.
It is a vital win for the nascent UK shale gas industry. But these are merely the opening skirmishes. To really know if fracking can provide significant gas for the UK, hundreds – if not thousands – of wells need to be drilled. Given the hand-to-hand combat that accompanies even single wells at the moment, the frackers still have an uphill struggle.
But the government has their back. It has promised cash handouts to local people in fracking areas: compensation or bribes, depending on your point of view. Yet why are the same incentives not offered for windfarms? A key underlying reason for opposition to turbines is the feeling of invasion of a community which derives no benefit from the development.
Ministers cannot say they did not know. The government’s own public opinion poll shows nearly eight in 10 people agree that renewable energy developments should provide direct benefits to the communities in which they are located. The poll also shows 81% in support of renewables, with 4% against. Contrast that with fracking: 19% in favour and 31% against, with the rest undecided.
So why does the government persist? The heady fracking fumes drifting across the Atlantic from the US, where shale oil and gas have transformed the energy market, are intoxicating. Ministers initially argued that fracking in the UK would cut energy bills, only to discover than no one else agreed with them.