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Proletarian issue 74 (October 2016)
Fracking: new faces, same agenda
Cabinet shuffle and department changes can’t hide the government’s commitment to capitalist fracking plans.
Despite overwhelming evidence and decades of broad international agreement that manmade climate change is real and that it poses a significant threat to the future of humanity, subsidies for the renewable energy industry have been slashed while oil and gas companies continue to fill their coffers from the public purse. (See Understanding climate change’s role in the UK’s recent floods, New Scientist, 6 January 2016)

Since government subsidies were cut by over half a billion pounds in December 2015, Britain’s solar power industry has lost 12,000 jobs (one third of the workforce), which means Britain is unlikely to meet its target of providing 15 percent of energy from renewables by 2020. (UK solar power industry loses over 12,000 jobs after government slashes subsidies, Independent, 25 July 2016)

The full extent of the cuts has not yet reached the renewable energy industry, where 30 percent of companies are expecting to make further lay offs. While one could argue that these jobs may be recovered by the development of a fracking industry, capitalism does not provide sensible and accessible training, so it is unknown how many, if any, of those thousands would find new work in a field that has not yet been developed.

In the meantime, £5.9bn in production subsidies are still provided to oil and gas companies operating in Britain, with a further £3.7bn funding production overseas – all while the government claims it provides no subsidies to the industry! (UK becomes only G7 country to increase fossil fuel subsidies, The Guardian, 12 November 2015)

Rather cleverly, when the G7 gang of imperialists agreed to phase fossil fuel subsidies out, they were only referring to subsidies that reduce the cost to consumers. (What does the G7 pledge to phase out fossil fuel subsidies mean for the UK?, De Smog UK, 30 May 2016)

Prime Minister Theresa May has said her energy policy will continue in the footsteps of her predecessor David Cameron, who promised to go “all out for shale”. To this end, she has started by abolishing the department of energy and climate change. Merging the DECC with another department to form the department for business, energy and industrial strategy headed by Greg Clark, Ms May is well on her way to fulfilling that promise. (Under May’s new government, a UK gas fracking push is probable, Bloomberg, 25 July 2016)

Mr Clark, previously secretary for communities and local government, is well known in Lancashire for his role in ‘calling in’ fracking company Cuadrilla’s planning application after it was rejected by the local county council. Previously a vocal proponent of local authority decision-making, Clark and his associates clearly considered the fracking application too important for the local county council to be allowed to make the ‘wrong’ decision on. (Minister to decide over Lancashire fracking appeal, BBC, 27 November 2015)

Mr Clark, therefore, like many of his cabinet colleagues, is considered to be a safe pair of hands for the fracking industry – happy to circumvent or bulldoze through any inconvenient bureaucracy or public opposition that arises. To dissipate the energy of the protestors and allow the media’s attention to drift elsewhere, the government is drawing out the process (in the case of Lancs) for a further 16 months, despite claiming that the reason for bypassing the local council’s decision-making process is that it would take too long! (Fracking bids: ministers to step in if councils too slow, BBC, 13 August 2015)

The possibility of future compensation has been tantalisingly dangled in front of communities inconveniently located on potential fracking sites. This will supposedly take the form of ‘shale wealth funds’ to be provided via 10 percent of the tax revenue on profits from fracking, but there is no guarantee that the industry will ever become profitable, especially after offsetting the considerable costs of exploration (an expected £150m in the case of Cuadrilla).

If and when the industry does become profitable, there is no guarantee that the companies will not find a way to register a loss via a tax haven or two. Hardly comforting to those who live near the sites, who will be exposed to significant health risks and trapped by plummeting house prices. (Fracking cash pledge evaporates in a puff of gas, Yorkshire Post, 19 August 2016)

Despite her first speech as prime minister including the (laughable) claim that her government “will do everything we can to give you more control over your lives”, the reality is that neither Ms May’s nor any other capitalist government will prioritise the interests of working people over those of the profiteers.
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