George Osborne – driving the UK to frack and ruin

It was a curious day in the chancellor’s constituency yesterday, but also a very significant one. Greenpeace were there to bring home to George Osborne the realities of fracking.

Kathy Cumming is the press officer for Greenpeace UK

“Frack jacks” were flying out the door of Tatton’s Cranford café yesterday, local schoolchildren walking to school told me conspiratorially “we’d never vote for George Osborne”, and Imagine FM 104.9 –“Cheshire’s number one More music station” – took a request mid-afternoon for “Want to frack for Good by Take Frack”.

It was a curious day in the chancellor’s constituency, to be sure; but also a very significant one.

We were there to bring home the realities of fracking. Tatton is just one of hundreds of constituencies up and down the country earmarked for possible shale gas extraction as part of George Osborne’s ill-advised gas plans.

Two licenses have been already been granted in the area, (one to a company that’s mostly Chinese state owned, as tactfully explained in today’s Daily Mail.)

Activists blocked off the Knutsford village green at 8am, erecting drilling rigs and other fracking equipment, while climbers occupied the first floor balcony of Osborne’s constituency office building, rebranding it as the headquarters of newly registered company “Frack & Go”.

Arguably we were too authentic for our own good. A local man was heard saying to his friend in Costa: “I note they’re doing some test drilling on the green today” and the Sun photographer onsite sounded genuinely incensed when he said “it’s too good, it’s too professional. You can’t even tell it’s a protest”.

The activity came as ComRes polling was released showing most Tatton locals don’t want fracking, with widespread concern about noise, disruption, falling house prices and earth tremors.

Even more interestingly, 12% of those who voted Tory at the last election said they’d be less likely to do so again should fracking get the go ahead.

Everyone from Ofgem to BP to the secretary of state for Energy say UK shale gas won’t bring down bills. Meanwhile the Campaign to Protect Rural England has warned of a huge backlash if large areas of countryside are ‘transformed into industrial sites’, and MPs in Osborne’s own party say controversy over wind farms will look like a walk in the park compared with the fight over fracking.

The chancellor would be foolish to ignore this deep sense of unease. He’d be equally foolish to ignore the fact people’s qualms go beyond unconventional shale gas.

They extend to his gas strategy in general. The ComRes polling found only 15% of his constituents want the UK to get its electricity from gas in future, compared with 52% who want renewables. Meanwhile the latest DECC survey shows 79% of the total population are in favour of clean energy, while only 4% are opposed.

But Osborne remains blinkered. Outed last year as the ring-leader of an anti-green plot on the Tory right, the chancellor never acknowledges that green businesses provided a third of all UK growth between 2011 and 2012.

His dash for gas will bust UK climate targets and when, as experts predict, UK shale doesn’t come to much, consumers will be left dangerously dependent on imported gas from places like Qatar.

The UK should instead be moving towards a carbon free electricity system, which will be cleaner and cheaper over time. Hundreds of investors, business leaders, UK companies and civil society groups say the same.

Osborne has fought to keep a goal of carbon-free energy out of the Energy Bill, but his own colleague, Conservative MP Tim Yeo, has tabled an amendment that would see it included. Things became interesting over the weekend with Tim Farron indicating he’ll join the “the cross party energy rebellion”.

MPs will vote on the amendment in the next two months.

I’m told the Greenpeace fracking operation was still the talk of Knutsford town this morning. George Osborne needs to hang up his JR Ewing hat and take a moment to listen to voters’ concerns.

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