On Wednesday, the Welsh parliament voted in favor of a measure calling on the government to prevent fracking from taking place “until it is proven to be safe in both an environmental and public health context.” The vote comes just one week after Scotland announced a temporary fracking ban in order to allot time for a full public health assessment of the process.
“It’s a historic day,” said North Wales assembly member Llyr Gruffyd, of the Plaid Cymru party. “This is a clear statement from the National Assembly for Wales that we want a frack-free Wales.”
The vote effectively makes it impossible for shale gas projects to receive planning permits in Wales. With the Irish Government also waiting to proceed with the controversial process, pressure is building in London for a British ban and possible U.K.-wide moratorium.
“The Westminster Government needs to catch up with Scotland, Wales and many other areas of the world and bring in a moratorium on controversial fracking,” said Friends of the Earth’s Energy Campaigner Donna Hume in light of the Welsh decision.
British Prime Minister David Cameron has promoted fracking as a way to reduce dependence on fossil fuel imports and transition to cleaner forms of energy. His government has been criticized for siding with fossil fuel interests, which is generally out of line with public opinion. A U.K.-government survey this week found that about a quarter of the public support fracking while half neither support or oppose it. The same survey found that 68 percent support onshore wind, 74 percent support offshore wind, and 81 percent support solar power.
About a quarter of the people surveyed were not familiar with the process of fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, a technique the blasts a high-pressure mix of water, sand, and chemicals underground to facilitate oil and gas flow. Public health concerns include air and water contamination as well as leaking methane emissions, a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes significantly to climate change. A link between fracking and minor earthquakes has also been observed in the United States. Increased truck traffic and noise pollution are also concerns harbored by residents in near proximity to the extraction, an issue that has deterred some fracking efforts in the U.K.
Industry members and advocates promote fracking as a cheap and clean source of energy that reduces reliance on fossil fuel imports and drives economic growth. With the recent downturn in oil prices, fracking companies have been struggling financially as short-term balance sheets have been upended. According to analysts following the industry, fracking companies need between $60 and $100 per barrel of oil to break even. With oil hovering around $55 per barrel, these investments are more vulnerable.
Oil extraction can significantly improve the viability of shale gas wells, according to Geert Decock, director of EU Affairs at Food & Water Europe, a nonprofit consumer organization. Decock writes that Chevron’s recent announcement that the company is quitting shale gas exploration in Poland is another indicator that shale gas in the EU will never live up to the industry’s projected ‘shale bonanza.’
In late January, the British government succumbed to public pressure and input from the minority Labor Party and decided to ban fracking in national parks. A reversal of a policy announced in 2014, the act was meant to assuage those wanting tighter restrictions in the law.
“This is a huge u-turn,” said Labour energy spokeswoman Caroline Flint. “The government has been forced to accept that tough protections and proper safeguards must be in place before fracking can go ahead.”
An analysis done by the Guardian this week found that fracking is set to be banned from 40 percent of England’s shale areas when the new moratoriums are combined with the new protections, which rule out fracking in national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty, sites of special scientific interest, and groundwater source protection zones. Currently fracking blocks approved by the English government cover 60 percent of England.