How long can the Welsh Government sit on the fracking fence?

Gareth Clubb asks, if the Welsh Government is concerned about fracking, why is it still doing nothing?

At Friends of the Earth Cymru, we’ve been calling for a moratorium on fracking and other unconventional gas in Wales since 2012.

The government’s usual response to calls for a moratorium is that “oil and gas licencing is a reserved matter.” Yet there’s been no move to gain the power to determine where in Wales fracking could take place. In response to a question from Llŷr Gruffydd AM, the First Minister revealed, “We have had no discussions [with the UK Government] over the devolution of oil and gas licencing to Wales.”

But the Welsh Government could stop fracking in its tracks in Wales immediately. With full control over planning, it can insist that permission for unconventional gas operations will be refused if there is any unreasonable risk of adverse environmental or social impacts. It can insist the proposal does not compromise UK and Welsh duties in relation to climate change.

Thousands joined our Wales Against Fracking day in the summer, and on Saturday 11 October people will be travelling from all over the country to demonstrate against fracking outside the Senedd.

They’ll be demonstrating against the UK Government’s plans to remove people’s rights to object to drilling under their homes. In August the Scottish Government attacked Westminster’s “gung-ho approach”, but we’ve still heard not a squeak from the Welsh Government.

They’ll be raising their voices about climate change. After all, it was nearly three years ago that experts at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change showed that the extraction of shale gas cannot be reconciled with our climate change commitments.

And they’ll be highlighting their concerns over the safety of fracking. This summer, the then Environment Minister, John Griffiths, revealed that the Welsh Government shares these doubts. He wrote in a letter to Friends of the Earth Cymru, “Whether gas from unconventional hydrocarbons that may be present in Wales can be safely extracted and bring benefits to the people of Wales requires more research.”

More and more communities across Wales are campaigning against the threat of fracking. Experts have made the climate change impacts and safety concerns clear. The case for the economic benefits is doubtful; even fracking companies have long since admitted it won’t lower fuel bills, and it may well destroy more jobs that it creates.

If the Welsh Government doesn’t get off the fracking fence soon, it’s likely to be pushed.

Gareth Clubb is Director of Friends of the Earth Cymru.

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