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Fracking payouts ‘a bribe’, say campaigners

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ANTI-FRACKING campaigners in Frome have hit out against the Government’s plans to give money to communities living near fracking sites, saying the scheme is ‘like a bribe’ and ‘hardly adequate compensation’ for the environmental damage they expect.

Prime Minister Theresa May announced earlier this month that the Government was considering giving money from the shale wealth fund – 10% of tax proceeds from fracking – to householders near to wells instead of to local councils.

Frome people campaigning against fracking say they don’t think the money will sway people towards supporting fracking; a controversial process of extracting gas from the ground by pumping water and chemicals down a well.

Local people could be affected because a company called South Western Energy has been given licences to explore for gas in locally, coming as close to Frome as Berkley and Beckington.

A recent Freedom of Information request by local campaigners revealed that the company named one of its licence applications ‘Westbury’, suggesting it would like to drill in this area.

Dr. Mary Phillips, director of graduate studies at the University of Bristol and member of Frome Anti-Fracking, told Frome Times she didn’t think the  payout scheme would benefit the community.

“That the government has resorted to making what appears like a bribe is indicative that it recognises that fracking does have very unpleasant impacts on those who live in the areas affected and that it is extremely unpopular across the population as a whole,” she said last week.

“Even if individual households are given payouts, however inadequate they may be, that will not benefit the wider community who will see our countryside degraded and industrialised, our air and water polluted and our roads clogged with heavy lorries servicing the fracking wells.

“And how will someone who has accepted a ‘fracking bribe’ explain to their children and grandchildren that they sold their future so cheaply?”

No official figures were given for what households could receive, but a BBC business correspondent said it could be up to £10,000 each.

Mary said on the figures, “The much-reported figure of around £10,000 per household seems to have been given in an off-the-record briefing as there is no official mention of it.

“What the government has said is that ‘up to £10million’ (in total) could be available to communities and could be divided in various ways between payments to individual households and community benefits.

“The money is only payable after exploration and once wells are in full production. The payment will come from taxes on profits from commercial extraction. So there will be no payment made during exploration and, as the government’s own consultation highlights, exploration and production may not only be years apart, they may not happen in the same place.

“Research reported in a Bristol University policy document and elsewhere indicates that property and land values are negatively impacted (the government itself admits that it can be as much as 7%, while experience from the United States where fracking is far more developed, indicates that it could be as much as 70%) from the time that a planning application is made.

“Moreover, the research indicates that values are affected within a 20-30 km radius of well sites and that this impact is long-lasting, which would mean that any pot of money will be stretched very thinly.”