The UK Information Commissioner’s Office ruled on Thursday that the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (Defra) must re-publish its report into the impact of fracking on house prices and rural communities, which originally appeared in 2014, with 63 ‘redacted’ sections.
The Commissioner’s Office ruled that there was “a strong public interest” in the Government’s policy on fracking and research on it and ordered the 13-page-long report to be published in full.
Defra had argued that the report should not be published because it was incomplete and contained vague claims and “inaccurate and potentially misleading information”, which would be “disproportionately damaging”. It further argued that the release of the report would “mislead and undermine public debate on the wider policy”, thereby “hindering the formulation and development of government policy in relation to shale gas whilst not helping public understanding of the issues”. Ministers needed “a safe space in which to formulate and develop policy”, they said.
However, anti-fracking groups argue that it is essential that the full report is made public before the Lancashire County Council decides this week on whether shale operator Cuadrilla is allowed to commence exploratory work on its two sites in the area. Should this decision be favourable to Cuadrilla, this would be the first permission to drill for shale since earthquakes caused by the company’s activities near Blackpool lead to a moratorium on fracking in 2012, and – many fear – could open the floodgates to aggressive shale drilling in the country.
Daisy Sands, campaigner at Greenpeace, which challenged the redaction, said: “The government’s stubborn refusal to publish this report in full is totally indefensible. By cherry-picking which evidence is released, ministers are misleading both the public and local councillors as to the real impacts of fracking.
“Lancashire authorities are about to make a decision that will have huge repercussions for the life of their communities. They should have access to all the evidence, not just the sanitised digest produced by the government. We urge ministers to disclose the whole report before next week’s decision, letting residents and their councillors make up their own minds about fracking.”
Defra has 35 days in which to publish the contentious report or be deemed in contempt of court but could also lodge an appeal within 28 days. The department’s spokeswoman did not indicate whether the department would publish the report. “The Information Commissioner’s Office informed us of its decision which we will now consider in full,” she said in a statement.
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