Have Brits had a change of heart? New poll shows 57 percent support for fracking

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A new survey commissioned by UK Onshore Oil and Gas (UKOOG) has found that 57 percent of Britons think shale gas production should go ahead. This is a drastically different result from a YouGov survey conducted earlier this year which showed that support for shale gas exploration fell in Britain below 50 percent.

The UKOOG survey of 4,000 adults – one of the largest polls on the issue – also found overwhelming support for reducing Britain’s reliance on gas imports from overseas, which are rising rapidly as North Sea production declines.

The key findings of the research include:

  • Overall support for shale gas production: 57% support the production of natural gas from shale in the UK, compared with 16% who oppose and 27% who are undecided.
  • Reducing reliance on gas imports: 67% agree that Britain needs to produce its own energy so it isn’t reliant on gas from other countries, compared with just 1% who disagree. National Grid has forecast that without natural gas from shale production, Britain will import up to 91% of its gas by 2035.
  • Support for shale gas development alongside renewable energy: 59% would be willing to see natural gas from shale production go ahead as long as it forms part of a mix that includes renewable energy sources, with only 12% disagreeing.
  • New infrastructure needed: 47% agree that the UK needs to invest in a whole range of new infrastructure, including housing, roads and railways, airport capacity and new energy sources, with only 5% disagreeing.
  • Underground land access: 42% agree with the Government’s planned changes to underground land access, compared with 16% who disagree. The changes are designed to bring oil and gas and geothermal energy production into line with other essential services that have rights of underground access, including water and sewage pipelines and coal mines.

Commenting on the findings, Ken Cronin, Chief Executive of UKOOG, said: “This survey shows that most people across the country think that shale gas should be developed. More than four out of five of us heat our homes with gas, and Britain’s shale resource gives us the opportunity to become less dependent on foreign energy supplies, create tens of thousands of jobs and support our manufacturing industries.

“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. Whilst these results are positive, our industry needs to continue to do all it can to listen to and engage with the views of local communities.”

So, have the British really changed their opinion on fracking that quickly? In view of the Ukrainian crisis and the sanctions on Russia – Europe’s major supplier of gas – such change of heart is certainly possible. Anti-fracking protesters, however, are not convinced.

Commenting on the results of the survey, a Greenpeace spokesman said: “Surely it’s no coincidence that the only survey out there showing this level of public support for fracking has been commissioned by the industry lobby. All independent polls show less than half of Britain backs shale drilling.

“This is just more smoke and mirrors to hide the obvious fact that fracking remains a highly controversial industry, far less popular than clean and safe alternatives like wind and solar.”

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas also dismissed the poll result as “an absolute outlier” and said she believed some of the questions it asked were “quite dubious in the way they were phrased”.

She also criticized the government for censoring a report into the impact of shale drilling that examines the effect on house prices and pressure on local services. As the UK daily The Guardian reports, the Shale Gas: Rural Economy Impacts report, was written in March and a draft was released under environmental information laws with large portions of the text removed. In particular, the section looking at the effect of drilling on house prices has three missing chunks.

“It appears that the government has a great deal to hide with regards to the risks of fracking for local communities,” Ms Lucas said. “The number of redactions would be almost comical if it weren’t so concerning. What are the economic, social and environment impacts and effects upon housing and local services, agriculture and tourism that the government is so keen to withhold from us? The implications of fracking for rural communities are vast. It is critical the public knows the facts: absolute transparency is essential – censorship should not be an option.”

Anti-fracking protesters have long expressed concern over the impact of shale exploration on the environment and local communities. Interviewed by The Guardian, Barbara Richardson, of the Roseacre Awareness Group opposing fracking in Roseacre, Lancashire, called the £100,000 of “community benefits” promised by the government to local communities affected by fracking an “insult” as some people in her area are unable to sell their houses at all.

Asked why the full report could not be published, a government spokesperson said: “There is no evidence that house prices have been affected in over half a century of oil and gas exploration in the UK or evidence that this would be the case with shale. This government believes that shale has a positive part to play in our future energy mix, providing energy security, driving growth and creating jobs.”

A letter published with the report said: “There is a strong public interest in withholding the information because it is important that officials can consider implications of potential impacts and scenarios around the development of the shale gas industry and to develop options without the risk that disclosure of early thinking could close down discussion.”

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