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The secret fracking report

Government ‘releases’ secret fracking report, with a ‘black wall’ of redacted pages
Anti-fracking protests at Barton Moss

The UK government has finally released its secret report on the fracking industry, following a 22-month Freedom of Information battle and court order, Unearthed has revealed.

Unearthed first discovered the existence of the report in early 2018, but its information request was rejected because the government claimed it ‘could call into question the industry’s viability.’

The report, which was produced by the Cabinet Office in 2016 but never published, confirms government and industry players were privately downbeat about the prospects for a UK shale boom, even as they talked up the sector’s potential.

Heavily censored

Though sections of the document have been unredacted, it remains heavily censored; 37 of the 48 pages are fully censored and many of the others contain significant redactions. It does identify ‘low public acceptance of shale’ as the primary barrier to the industry’s progress, however.

Rather than addressing these concerns, the government seems to have viewed this as something that could be won round through propaganda and communication efforts.

The report states: ‘DECC is already undertaking crucial work on communications to increase public acceptability of shale’ such as the ‘development of pro-shale national/regional narrative’ and ‘shale champions.’

‘Looking at this black wall of redacted pages, people will be wondering why there’s so little the government is willing to reveal about fracking and so much it wants to hide.

‘If ministers have really dropped their support for this polluting industry, why not publish this report in full and come clean about what’s been going on behind closed doors for years?’

Greenpeace UK’s head of politics

Overblown growth forecasts

Other sections of the report indicated that the government and industry understood that growth forecasts for fracking were overblown, and the long-term viability of UK fracking remained unproven.

‘The development of the UK shale industry over the next 5-10 years is subject to great uncertainty – most importantly because the viability of the UK shale reserves is not yet proven’, the report states.

It goes on to reference interviews with operators and industry experts that ‘suggest that the industry could close down quickly if early sites are unsuccessful. Developments in the next 5-10 years are therefore crucial to establish long-term viability of the industry.’

Moratorium on fracking

The report’s release comes as the government has placed a pause on fracking, though activists fear the moratorium could be lifted by a Conservative government after the election.

‘It’s clear that previous Conservative administrations bent over backwards to help the fracking industry bulldoze its way into the British countryside. People would feel much more confident about the Conservative’s pledge on fracking if they used the overwhelming evidence of its unacceptable risks to people and our environment to introduce a permanent ban, and put this industry to bed once and for all.’

Greenpeace UK’s head of politics

Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom said the moratorium would remain in effect until ‘new compelling evidence is provided’ regarding the serious seismic incidents drilling has triggered in the north of England.

Click here to read our article about the ban on fracking in the UK.

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