The best way of deciding how to generate power for the people is by giving power to the people.
On Saturday (30th July 2016), the streets of York were thronging with campaigners – flags flying, placards held high, voices raised in protest against what many believed to be the desecration of our democracy. Even Stonegate’s famous Purple Man showed is support, eliciting cheers from the crowd as he declared his bike to be a frack-free zone.
The event that triggered the march was the decision by North Yorkshire County Council to allow Third Energy to extract shale gas in Kirby Misperton despite the objections of large numbers of local residents. Ever since the UK wide ban was repealed in 2012, fracking – the process of pumping high-pressure fluid into rock fractures in order to extract shale gases – has been a contentious issue. On the one hand it could open up a whole new stream of locally sourced energy. On the other, fracking has been linked to contamination of groundwater, air pollution and even minor earthquakes.
The research around the long term effects of fracking is divided. It is not unusual for new technologies to arouse scepticism. When automobiles were first introduced to British roads they were limited to 4mph (2mph in towns) and had to be preceded by a man walking in front carrying a red flag. Similarly, some Victorian doctors warned against the danger of inhaling ‘electricity vapours’, yet today life without cars or electricity would be unimaginable. However, other technological leaps forward can lead to health and environmental issues unforeseen at the time – asbestos was lauded as the perfect fire-resistant insulating material; leaded petrol increased engine performance; and the x-ray shoe fitter used in shops from the 1920s to 1970s despite exposing users to damaging levels of radiation. Therefore, when it comes to a process that may has been linked to causing earthquakes you will have to forgive me for being hesitant until a fairly hefty amount of evidence has shown otherwise.
In the beer garden of a nearby pub shortly after the protest, a woman, who has been a York resident all her life, summed up with why she and her husband took part:
“Well, we weren’t asked about fracking, were we? They just want to go ahead and do it. What happened to democracy?"
And therein lies the crux of the matter. On this, as with many other issues that affect our region, there was no large scale public debate; no democratic forum with which to weigh up the evidence.
The issue of climate change and how we generate energy is one of most important issue of our generation. Whatever you believe - whether you believe fracking should happen in Yorkshire or whether you agree with the hundreds on anti-fracking campaigners who took to the streets on Saturday – the decision whether to frack in Yorkshire must be made by the people of Yorkshire – openly, democratically and based on clear, scientific evidence. Where is our voice?
It is easy to dismiss such protests as nimbyism (Not In My Back Yard). Yet, the Yorkshire Party represents people of many different views – some who oppose fracking, others who support it – and there is one thing that we can all agree on. Yorkshire already generates 16% of the UK’s electricity and as we move towards a zero-carbon future, our region must be equipped with the powers to make the choices that are best for Yorkshire, our environment, economy and people.
Without a regional parliament with meaningful powers, similar to those in Scotland, Wales and even Greater London, the views of the people of Yorkshire will continue to fall on deaf ears. In short, the best way of deciding how to generate power for the people is by giving power to the people.
Note: Published in the York Press - 'People of Yorkshire must have a voice on fracking' and in the Yorkshire Post - 'What happened to democracy over the fracking issues? on Thursday 4th August 2016.