Fracking companies like Cuadrilla have been desperate to drill for the past 7 years. But the frackers have been blocked by local communities in every place they've tried to frack.
This week the government went against the wishes of people living in Lancashire. It gave Cuadrilla the final go-ahead to begin fracking at Preston New Road in Little Plumpton.
Lancashire residents, including members of an unlikely group of protesting grandmas, have been leading a remarkable campaign to protect their communities from fracking. Their extraordinary efforts have won support from all over the country and helped keep the UK frack-free for years.
In 2015, Lancashire county council agreed with local residents – and voted to block fracking. But the government overturned that ruling and took the decision out of local hands.
Fracking shouldn't be forced on communities who don't want it. If you agree, please sign our petition.
Does this mean fracking is actually starting?
Fracking could now start very soon, once equipment is set up. This will be the first hydraulic fracturing – drilling for gas in shale rock – in the UK since 2011.
How did it come to this?
The history of fracking in the UK is a story of the underdog – local people resisting the might of government-backed big business.
The current government has been supportive of fracking, like the coalition government before it. In 2012, then Chancellor George Osborne promised to help the industry with tax breaks.
2 years later, and still no fracking, David Cameron announced he was going all out for shale. He was accused of bribing councils by allowing them to keep 100% of the business rates they collected from fracking firms.
And yet still no fracking. Local communities made sure the frackers didn't get in. People are concerned about risks to the climate and the local environment.
In 2015, Lancashire county councillors overwhelmingly voted to reject fracking. It was a landmark decision that exposed fracking as a failed industry. There have been reports that even the banks are losing interest.
But the government wouldn't take no for an answer. It overturned Lancashire's democratic decision the following year. And now it's given fracking firm Cuadrilla the green light. In the meantime, a list of countries and states including: Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, New York State and the Republic of Ireland have all either banned or suspended fracking due to the risks.
What's permitted development – and how will it affect fracking?
Communities have been resisting the fracking industry wherever it has tried to set up. But the government is trying to make it easier for fracking companies to drill. Its latest move? Sideline local people in the decision-making process.
It's proposing changes to planning rules, attempting to group drilling under permitted development. This is a category designed for minor home improvements like putting up a shed – not major drilling infrastructure.
The changes would allow fracking companies to start drilling without the need for a planning application or, significantly, local support.
Permitted development was meant to help people build a fence or a conservatory, not drill for gas.
Rose Dickinson, Friends of the Earth campaigner
Paradoxically, the government is demanding that all onshore wind projects must have local support. The double standard is undeniable.
What is Friends of the Earth doing about fracking and permitted development?
We're heaping pressure on the government to drop its proposal for gas drilling to be covered by the same planning rules as putting up a fence.
We want local councils to retain their right to make planning decisions on fracking. We don't want fracking companies drilling without applying for planning permission. You can help by signing our petition now:
And we're continuing to support campaigns led by local residents – including the people who would be affected by fracking in Lancashire.
Our work to keep shale gas in the ground is part of a wider campaign to get the UK to shift away from fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas. We're working with others to encourage organisations to pull their investments out of dirty energy funds – as well as helping communities resist polluting projects like new coal mines. We have a long history of supporting renewable energy, including boosting UK solar power.
Support for fracking remains low
Public support for fracking has been consistently low – and that's according to the government’s own public opinion tracker. Backing dropped to just 14% in April.
The government has lost the argument over fracking with concerns ranging from the climate impacts and noise pollution to the risk of groundwater contamination and the digging up of the English countryside. But instead of accepting defeat, these plans would be moving the goalposts.
Ministers are shutting local people out of the decision-making process. It's a case of "You're not allowed to stop us, so we're changing the rules."
If there was a referendum on fracking, it would be banished to the dustbin of history.
Rose Dickinson, Friends of the Earth campaigner
Local councils should retain their right to make planning decisions on fracking. If you agree, please sign our petition.
Why is fracking bad?
Fracking poses risks to public health, the local environment and the climate.
It's a way of extracting hard-to-reach oil and gas – fossil fuels that contribute to climate change. Even burning all the oil, coal and gas currently in production would sabotage our efforts to tackle climate change. So there's definitely no space for new ways of finding dirty energy.
Increased industrialisation is bad news for any household or business that values clean air and tranquil surroundings. More on why fracking is undesirable.
Arguments for fracking are weak
Rumours of lower energy bills, a jobs boom and energy security have been shown up to be nothing more than that.
We'd need to drill at least 6,100 fracking wells across the English countryside to replace even 50% of imported foreign gas. That's the equivalent of one new well every day for 15 years. It's unrealistic to think that fracking can help improve energy security
Even industry insiders have said that fracking is unlikely to reduce energy bills – including the former chairman of leading fracking firm, Cuadrilla.
The jobs claims don't add up either. The idea of fracking creating 70,000 jobs has been bandied about. David Cameron used the figure back in 2013. Here's the rub. In the US, between 2005 and 2012, each new fracking well created approximately 4 jobs [PDF]. Going on those numbers, how many wells would the UK need to frack to create 70,000 jobs? A staggering 17,500 fracking wells.
People want clean, renewable energy
The same government opinion tracker that shows how unpopular fracking is in the UK, reported an 85% approval rating for renewable energy in April.
Renewable sources like the sun, wind and waves are ready to go now and could help with energy security. Realising the potential of clean energy will keep fossil fuels, like fracked gas and oil, firmly in the ground.
If the government is serious about tackling climate change, it must ensure that around 75% [PDF] of our electricity comes from clean energy sources by 2030.
If we are serious about our explicit climate change commitments the only appropriate place for shale gas remains deep underground.
Professor Kevin Anderson, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research
Fracking shouldn't be forced on communities
If you agree, please sign and share our petition. Thank you.