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NEWS: Cameron government approves fracking in the UK

David Cameron, the Conservative prime minister of Great Britain, has approved the controversial practice of fracking.

The New York Times reports, “The British government gave the go-ahead Thursday for exploratory hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to extract natural gas from shale-rock deposits. …The decision potentially opens the door for a shale gas industry to begin developing in Western Europe… Poland has already allowed big energy companies to do exploratory drilling.”

“Britain, where the government is relatively well disposed to shale gas, is viewed as something of a bellwether. If shale gas catches hold in Britain and there are no major problems, its prospects on the Continent might look better as well. But there is strong opposition to shale gas in Europe, particularly in Western Europe. France, for instance, which is viewed as having some of the most promising shale oil and gas prospects, particularly in the Paris area, has banned fracking. The German state of North Rhine-Westphalia has formally halted the practice, and Lower Saxony state, where Exxon Mobil has done some drilling, has refused to let the company continue. On Friday, Germany’s upper house of Parliament will vote on legislation that would ban the practice, pending a further, government-led assessment of the risks involved.”

This decision comes less than four weeks after 262 Members of the European Parliament – more than one-third of MEPs – voted in support of a moratorium on fracking in Europe.

While MEPs have expressed concern about fracking, the Canadian embassy and corporate interests have actively been promoting this controversial practise in Europe. This past January, The Tyee.ca reported, “Former Alberta premier Ed Stelmach has been giving tips to the Ukrainian government on how to sell controversial shale gas development to a skeptical public… Development (there) has apparently been stymied to date by low foreign investment, complex regulations and environmental concerns. …Stelmach is not alone in promoting either the shale gas industry or championing Canada’s poor energy regulations abroad. George Eynon, a member of Alberta’s Energy Resources Conservation Board made presentations on shale gas regulation in Warsaw Poland in 2010 and Paris 2011. …Members of the Canadian Embassy in Poland have also promoted shale gas development. In addition Alex Ferguson, former commissioner of the BC’s Oil and Gas Commission also offered advice on unconventional shale gas production to European audiences. …Ferguson is now a senior advisor to Apache Canada. Talisman and EnCana, two major shale gas developers, have extensive unconventional gas interests in Europe.”

The Council of Canadians has worked to counter these messages. This past March, trade campaigner Stuart Trew and water campaigner Emma Lui met with the Irish Minister of State for Energy & Natural Resources and Environment Fergus O’Dowd in Toronto to raise concerns with him about fracking. They raised our concerns about the impacts of fracking on water and the climate and noted the limits that could be placed on any future environmental legislation as a result of an investor-state provision in the Canada-European Union free trade agreement.

The New York Times report on the UK government’s approval of fracking is at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/14/business/energy-environment/britain-approves-fracking-for-shale-gas-exploration.html?_r=0. The Tyee article noting the Harper’s promotion of fracking in Poland can be read at http://thetyee.ca/Blogs/TheHook/Environment/2012/01/30/shale-gas-ukraine-stelmach/. The campaign blog noting the meeting with the Irish minister is at http://canadians.org/blog/?p=13991.