Government fracking policy declared unlawful by High Court

'It is clear what the government must now do, namely hold a full review of its policy support for fracking'

Josh Gabbatiss
Science Correspondent
Wednesday 06 March 2019 13:57 GMT
Vivienne Westwood joins anti-fracking protest outside Courts of Justice

Key elements of the government’s policy on fracking have been declared unlawful by the High Court.

Ministers had failed to consider the latest evidence concerning the technique’s “low carbon” credentials, campaign group Talk Fracking argued.

The judge agreed the climate impact of shale gas extraction had been overlooked and described government policy as “flawed in its design and processes”.

The case was the latest in a series of challenges to fracking. Many environmental groups and local campaigners around the country oppose the practice.

Previous unsuccessful legal cases have tried to overturn decisions at individual sites, but this ruling will apply to national policy in England.

The case opens the door for people to object to fracking in their area on the grounds of climate change.

Claire Stephenson, who brought the claim on behalf of Talk Fracking, said the government had “continually sought to ignore public opinion on fracking”.

She said: “The lack of public consultation and the unbiased support for an industry, without any substantial underlying evidence, has been a cause for concern.”

Environmental concerns and earthquakes at drilling sites have seen support for fracking drop to just 13 per cent of the public in the most recent official figures.

“The additional acknowledgement from the judge, that climate change is a valid concern for campaigners and councils facing fracking planning applications, is a big win,” Ms Stephenson said.

Talk Fracking founder Joe Corre welcomed the “fantastic news”.

“I’m very pleased that the court has clarified both that the government has behaved irresponsibly and recklessly with our democratic rulebook,” he said.

The government has claimed fracking will help the UK tackle climate change and that the shale gas it produces has a lower carbon footprint than imported liquid natural gas.

However, evidence has emerged suggesting the technique, which involves injecting high pressure water into underground rock to allow gas to flow, is more harmful than previously suggested.

Bird's eye view footage of Cuadrilla-run Preston New Road fracking site in Lancashire

In particular, there has been greater understanding of the climate impacts triggered by methane leaks from fracking sites.

The judge, Mr Justice Dove, said the scientific findings brought forward by the campaigners were “never in fact considered relevant or taken into account”, despite being important.

A 2015 ministerial statement that fracking supports a low-carbon economy was not consulted on before being adopted into the government’s National Planning Policy Framework.

“It is clear what the government must now do, namely hold a full review of its policy support for fracking, after a meaningful public consultation and properly considering the scientific developments,” said Rowan Smith, solicitor from Leigh Day which represented Talk Fracking.

Last week the UK’s only fracking site, run by Cuadrilla in Lancashire, reported a series of methane emissions from its site.

While those leaks alone will not impact Britain’s attempts to reduce climate-warming emissions, there are concerns about the impact a scaled-up industry would have on the country.

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Commenting on the ruling, Dr Jonathan Marshall from think tank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit said: “Natural gas is not a low-carbon fuel, therefore the ruling to call into question governmental claims that it is make sense. With the UK’s electricity system almost free of coal, natural gas is now effectively the most carbon-intensive major source of power.”

Responding to the ruling, a spokesperson from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: “We note the judgment in the case brought by Talk Fracking, and will now consider our next steps”.

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