Want to know how fracking will affect you? Sorry, that’s a state secret!
By Geoffrey Lean Politics Last updated: August 11th, 2014
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Another week, another fracking fiasco. The Government has just published a report on the likely effects of the drilling on Britain’s countryside communities – including its possible impact on house prices – that is so heavily redacted it might instead be devoted to a military assessment of options for intervention in Iraq.
Rightly or wrongly, it can only raise suspicions in Middle Britain that ministers and the industry have a lot to hide on how fracking will affect its vital interests. And this would make it even harder for them to get the “social licence” of public support that they acknowledge will be essential if the exploration and exploitation of shale oil and gas is to succeed.
The report – Shale Gas: Rural Economy Impacts, published (if that’s the word) by the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – accepts that “large numbers of rural communities may be affected by the expansion of shale gas activities in the North East, West and southern regions of England”. But it then effectively treats how they will be impacted as top secret.
The extent to which the report has been blacked out is almost paranoically Putinesque. Some 58 passages appear to have been redacted in just 13 pages, entirely emasculating some sections. Three paragraphs out of six seem to have been cut from the section on effects on house prices, two out of four from the one on those on local services.
The report’s conclusions are reduced to eleven lines – overwhelmingly devoted to the financial inducements ministers and the industry are offering councils and communities that accept fracking – surrounded by 16 redacted passages. Most ludicrous of all, the report says it has examined a third “major social impact” besides the impacts on property prices and local services, but refuses to tell us what it is, let alone what was found: the section’s title and all its 12 paragraphs have been entirely excised.