Proposed fracking “bribes” and other compensations

Jason Ford - News Editor, The Engineer

Jason Ford,
News editor

With half an ear on yesterday’s news, my attention was fully held by a proposal to compensate people living in areas where fracking takes place.

In her quest to ‘deliver an economy that works for all’, the new prime minister Theresa May proposes amending the Shale Wealth Fund, which was announced by former chancellor George Osborne in last year’s Autumn Statement.

As it stands, the Shale Wealth Fund will be derived from up to 10 per cent of shale gas tax revenues and be made available to community trusts and local authorities in areas where shale developments are taking place.

According to a statement published yesterday, the new fund could deliver up to £10m to each eligible community, a figure that prompted the Mail on Sunday to reach for a calculator and work out that residents of Kirby Misperton in North Yorkshire – with 154 households – could be in for a £64,935 windfall.

This in turn led many to ask whether the proposed payments are in fact bribes designed quell the unrest that fracking causes, and whether they could be made without stirring up resentment in those neighbours that don’t quite live near enough to a shale development.

frack off
Protestors unveil banners at the drilling site near Southport. Credit: Frack Off

In yesterday’s announcement, May said: “The government I lead will be always be driven by the interests of the many – ordinary families for whom life is harder than many people in politics realise. As I said on my first night as prime minister: when we take the big calls, we’ll think not of the powerful but of you

“This announcement is an example of putting those principles into action. It’s about making sure people personally benefit from economic decisions that are taken – not just councils – and putting them back in control over their lives

“We’ll be looking at applying this approach to other government programmes in the future too, as we press on with the work of building a country that works for everyone.”

The Engineer has listened to, and published, the opinions of those tasked with taking shale developments forward, or who represent the interests of those engaged in such activities.

Despite the many valid reservations held by people living near fracking sites, the consensus is that the process can be carried out safely, with some suggesting that engineers themselves need to be more proactive in communicating this to the wider public.

Time will tell if money paid directly to households will effectively kill off widespread opposition to fracking, but it must now be asked whether people living alongside arguably more complex projects – such as Hinkley Point C (if it does proceed) or HS2 – will be similarly compensated, and if that is a scenario that should be welcomed.

In 1988 work got going on Sizewell B, which is situated on a part of north east Suffolk that was flatlining economically  at the time. Part of the deal to build Sizewell B involved providing a new indoor swimming pool to the neighbouring town of Leiston, and it is still enjoyed by visitors and local residents alike 21 years after the station got its rating certificate.

As simple as it might sound, a community asset like the aforementioned swimming pool is arguably a better way of compensating a community that lives in the shadow of a big engineering project. The pool is still busy after being open for business for two decades. Would a modest pay-out from the government have lasted so long?