A retired vicar from Lancashire, Reverend Michael Roberts, has scored a small victory for human progress. He challenged the myths promoted by environmentalist campaigners, Friends of the Earth (FoE), and won.
The battle began when Roberts happened upon an FoE leaflet, which fell out of his copy of Private Eye. It claimed that hydraulic fracturing to extract shale gas (fracking) caused serious harm to people’s health. Roberts teamed up with retired physics teacher Ken Wilkinson to submit a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). Together, they challenged FoE’s claims that fracking poisons water supplies, causes cancer and destroys the countryside. The ASA found that the claims were contradicted by the wealth of evidence available, and ordered FoE not to repeat them.
Roberts was once a paid-up member of FoE. He believed, as many do, that the organisation was a ‘tremendous guardian for the environment’. As Roberts explained on his blog, his views changed a few years ago when he realised how political the group was. ‘They were more political agitators than environmentalists’, he said.
Although anti-fracking activists rarely garner local support, they do have allies in high places. The Climate Change Act 2008 was drafted by Bryony Worthington, an FoE activist who was brought in by then energy secretary Ed Miliband. Since the act passed, energy policy has been directed towards reducing carbon dioxide emissions and increasing the cost of energy. An array of taxes, subsidies and market manipulations has been imposed in the past eight years. The powerful Environmental Audit Committee oversees government departments’ compliance with objectives drawn up by green lobbyists. As such, the opportunity presented by fracking has been hampered by green consultants with access to national and local government decision-makers, backed up by activist campaigns.
Despite its evident benefits, fracking is routinely opposed by politicians in areas of the UK that would benefit from it most. The Welsh Assembly, the Scottish Parliament and numerous councils across northern England have imposed bans on fracking. When Wakefield Council, in the heart of the now defunct Yorkshire coalfields, decided to ban it in 2016, the council debate was dominated by the sort of myths promoted by FoE. Councillors queued up to denounce any ‘claimed’ benefits, like jobs or reduced energy prices. The head of Wakefield Council, Peter Box, bizarrely invoked the extinction of gorillas resulting from climate change as the final reason to impose a moratorium. The vote against fracking was unanimous.