Fracking, the increasingly controversial method of extracting gas from underground reserves, is now getting a boost from a change in trespassing laws in the United Kingdom.
The 2014 Queen's Speech has announced today that an infrastructure and competitiveness bill will change trespassing laws, allowing shale gas exploration firms to drill on private land without the owner's permission.
The change has been seen as a bitter blow by environmental campaigners, who have been vehemently opposing the practice for years. The process is deeply unpopular with affected communities, and has prompted many demonstrations and rallies by thousands of protestors who want fracking to be banned. More than 45,000 people around the country have joined legal moves to block energy companies from fracking under their properties, in the wake of disturbing scientific evidence from established fracking sites in the United States.
U.S. research studies have indicated that the violent method of gas extraction, which involves pumping water, chemicals and sand at high pressure underground to fracture shale rock, can cause earthquakes and pollute water supplies. More serious associations have also been made, including an increase in birth defects and other health risks such as sensory, respiratory and neurological damage.
The latest news has been greeted with disappointment by U.K. Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, who stated that the Government was "focusing on the fantasy of fracking."
“We're obviously opposed to that because we're opposed to the whole idea of fracking," she said. " I think it's really a demonstration of how this Government - which we might recall once claimed to be the greenest Government ever, which is now a very sad, sick joke"
It is thought that the bill amendments have been introduced as fracking companies would find it impossible to obtain permission from each individual resident to drill under their home. Francis Egan, chief executive of one of the leading fracking companies, Cuadrilla, commented that it would be ‘impractical’ to negotiate with every individual landowner. The government has therefore decided to alter trespassing laws to accommodate the needs of the industry rather than the population.
U.K. Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said: “Not only does this bill defy public opinion, it denies people a voice. To allow fracking companies to drill under people’s homes and land without their permission is to ignore public interest in pursuit of the vested interests of a few.”
A letter opposing the new laws has been sent to the U.K government, and has been signed by Greenpeace, the Homeowners Alliance, the RSPB, Friends of the Earth, the Angling Trust, the Salmon & Trout Association and the Wildlife Trusts.
Homeowners Alliance chief executive Paula Higgins said: "It's outrageous that homeowners don't have a say over who uses and profits from their land. Our homes are our most valuable asset and the government shouldn't be allowed to ride roughshod over people from all corners of the country without any discussion or consultation and only a hint of compensation."
The United Kingdom is keen to develop fracking as a source of energy, despite the warnings from across the pond in North America, where many counties have now voted to ban the procedure, including Santa Cruz which became the first Californian county to ban fracking earlier this month. Polls indicate that 74% of the British public also want the practice to be banned but, for now, it seems that their government is ignoring their views and backing big businesses instead.
Greenpeace UK executive director John Sauven said: "Having failed to reassure the country that fracking is safe, ministers now want to render people powerless to oppose it. There's nothing fair or just about this underhand ploy to strip people of their legal right to say no to fracking under their homes."
Greenpeace have further shown their disappointment and displeasure at the news by constructing a mock fracking site outside the U.K. Prime Minister's house. Greenpeace reported that activists in hard hats and high-visibility jackets arrived at the Prime Minister's cottage in the Cotswold hamlet of Dean, Oxfordshire, sealing off the property's front gate with security fencing and erecting a sign which read "We apologise for any inconvenience we may cause while we frack under your home", and ordered complaints to be directed to Mr Cameron's office.
Unknown Country has been reporting on the dangers of fracking for many years: read our archived stories here.
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