'Cuadzilla' out for a wander on 1st June 2015 at #ReclaimThePower day of actions against dirty fossil fuel companies. Photo: via Frack Free Lancashire.
Government ordered: release full fracking report!
Kyla Mandel / DeSmog.uk
22nd June 2015
As Lancashire councillors prepare to decide the planning application to frack in the county, writes Kyla Mandel, the UK's transparency watchdog has ordered the government to publish in full a report on the impacts of fracking, previously published only in a heavily redacted version.
DEFRA's submissions fail to specify why it is unable to provide a statement accompanying disclosure that explains that the information may be inaccurate or misleading and why.
In a victory for green campaigners the UK's transparency watchdog has ruled that the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) must release an un-redacted version of its Shale Gas: Rural Economy Impacts report.
The heavily redacted fracking report was released last summer after a Freedom of Information request by Request Initiative on behalf of Greenpeace. The report was blanked out 63 times within 13 pages, including a whole section on the impact of fracking on house prices.
Greenpeace appealed to the Information Commissioner's Office in March to force the department to release the report in full arguing that "a sensible sustainable way forward is required and all information needs to be released to ensure transparency and good choice of solutions for our energy needs going forward."
In refusing requests for the report's release both Defra and the Department for Energy and Climate Change (CECC) - which have claimed the report should never have been produced in the first place - have argued that there was a "strong public interest in withholding the information" as it could "mislead and distort the public debate on shale gas."
But as the ICO ruling states: "The Commissioner gives limited weight to the argument that the information at issue is misleading and/or confusing. In particular, he considers that DEFRA's submissions fail to specify why it is unable to provide a statement accompanying disclosure that explains that the information may be inaccurate or misleading and why."
Given the "novel and environmentally invasive nature of fracking" the ICO concludes that "there is a strong public interest in understanding the full detail of the research that has been carried out and how it has been considered."
Lancashire fracking decision - meeting begins tomorrow
Greenpeace had argued that an un-redacted version should be released before a critical vote by Lancashire authorities on whether or not to grant fracking firm Cuadrilla planning permission for two sites in the area. Louise Hutchins, a Greenpeace UK energy campaigner, said:
"Authorities in Lancashire and elsewhere in the country are about to make crucial decisions on whether to allow this controversial industry in their area. They should be given access to all the available evidence, not have it cherry-picked for them by the government."
The decision is due to be made in a meeting that begins tomorrow, Tuesday 23rd June, and is expected to last for several days. Last week planning officers advised councillors to accept the application to frack at Preston New Road, Little Plumpton, but deny the application for a second site at Roseacre Wood.
They had previously recommended refusal for the Preston New Road site due to concerns over noise, but now they believe those fears can be overcome provided that conditions are met on times of operation, hours of working and highway matters. However the increase in HGV traffic as Roseacre Wood would result in "an unacceptable impact" on rural roads.
It now appears very unlikely that councillors will have sight of the full report before reaching their decision, as Defra's deadline for release only comes in mid-July.
But now that the release of the full report has been ordered, councillors may decide to delay their planning decisions until that takes place: in February Lancashire County Council called for an un-redacted copy of the report to be released, arguing a decision could only come from having access to the full report.
The controversy that's not going away
The shale gas report has gained considerable attention since it was first released, with MPs calling for its release. Labour MP Alan Whitehead, for example, urged the government in January to end any notion that it was hiding information, stating:
"It is imperative that the report is published in full in order for a proper debate to take place and to dispel the enormous cloud of suspicion that will hang over any further attempts to keep parts of it secret."
Prime Minister David Cameron has also ducked questions about the report's release on more than one occasion - taking his own 2011 promise of a "complete revolution in transparency" in vain. "Information is power", he said. "It lets people hold the powerful to account, giving them the tools they need to take on politicians and bureaucrats."
As regards the impact of fracking on house prices, there is already abundant evidence that the large scale industrial operations associated with fracking, and even the prospect of such operations taking place in the future, do indeed depress house prices in the affected areas.
Lancashire County Council has just received a letter from 850 elected officials in New York State, USA, warning of the hazards of fracking to health and communities. Martha Robertson, Tompkins County Legislator, told BBC News:
"After studying the public health impacts of fracking for years, New York State Health Commissioner Dr Zucker was clear that he would not let his family live in a community with fracking. It is possible to stand up to this dirty and dangerous industry and ensure residents' safety."
This article was originally published by DeSmog.uk. This version includes additional reporting by The Ecologist.
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