Fracking campaigners criticise ‘censored’ report on house prices
Government urged to publish sections cut from study into impact of shale gas wells on local communities
Rowena Mason, political correspondent
The Guardian, Sunday 10 August 2014 15.45 BST
Caroline Lucas MP criticised cuts in the government’s published draft report exploring the impact that drilling for shale gas may have on UK house prices. Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
The government has been criticised for censoring a report into the impact of shale gas drilling that examines the effect on house prices and pressure on local services.
Campaigners are calling for full publication of the study carried out by Whitehall officials, as the government continues to resist the idea of offering compensation to individual householders near proposed fracking sites.
The report, called Shale Gas: Rural Economy Impacts, 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.
The published sections mention a 2010 report about Texas, which found that houses valued at more than £150,000 and within 1,000 feet of a well site had seen their values fall by 3% to 14%. Unredacted parts also mention other economic studies showing anything between a small positive impact on property prices for homes within 2km of wells dependent on commercially-piped water in Pennsylvania, to a drop of between 4% and 7% for homes within 4km of sour gas wells and flaring oil batteries in Alberta, Canada.
The report only cited studies it considered “robust”, while noting that it was difficult to compare overseas locations to a UK setting and complicated to disentangle all the factors that cause house prices to go up and down.
The report was published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs shortly after the government opened up two-thirds of England to a new round of bidding for shale gas drilling licences. David Cameron and the chancellor, George Osborne, have hailed the potential of shale gas to boost the economy and bring down energy bills, but many MPs are concerned about the potential for drilling to scar the landscape, cause environmental damage and harm house prices in their constituencies.
Caroline Lucas, the Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, criticised the censoring of the report, saying it would increase people’s concerns.
“It appears that the government has a great deal to hide with regards to the risks of fracking for local communities,” she 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.”
The government has suggested £100,000 of “community benefits” to be shared among local people affected by fracking. However, Barbara Richardson, of the Roseacre Awareness Group opposing fracking in Roseacre, Lancashire, called the sum an “insult” as some people in her area are unable to sell their houses at all.
“One couple had agreed a house sale, but just as the plans were announced in February their buyers negotiated a reduction of 14.5% due to the uncertainty over fracking. Their agents urged them to take it and move out before more became known about the plans,” she said. “There are a couple of other properties on the market but not selling. Everyone asks about the fracking plans.
“At the other site, at Little Plumpton, an agent told one family they are unlikely to be able to sell so there is no point in valuing or trying to sell … The paltry £100,000 community benefit offered per well is an insult. People do not want community benefits, they want restitution.”
Barbara Keeley, Labour MP for Worsley and Eccles South, also said the government should consider the need for compensation for people whose homes lose value because of fracking.
“I know that people living near to the Barton Moss IGas drilling site are very concerned about loss of value in their house prices due to the drilling. They are also concerned that house insurance premiums may increase substantially,” she said. “One couple trying to sell their home told me that no one came to view the house at all since the drilling started. The government should consider the need for compensation for residents negatively affected by shale gas operations.”
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.”