Church of England weighs in on shale

Church leaders say they were called on by their congregation to address the issue.
By Daniel J. Graeber  |  Jan. 18, 2017 at 8:32 AM
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The Church of England said Wednesday it added its voice to the chorus of those taking a stand on the fledgling shale natural gas industry in the country.

"As more applications for test drilling and fracking are granted, some affected communities are looking to the Church of England for leadership and perspective on the many issues concerned," it said in a briefing paper.

Last year, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace delivered a petition with 186,000 signatures to the British government expressing solidarity with a move by the Lancashire County Council to prohibit drilling in the area. Advocacy groups say there are indications the government aims to develop a commercial shale industry under the terms of a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Planning mechanism, a mechanism criticized as a way to sideline local voices.

Beyond the concerns about the controversial drilling practice, which may be linked to groundwater contamination and small earthquakes, local advocates said the fight against the government was a fight for local empowerment.

Church leaders in 2015 issued a declaration calling for greater emphasis on a low-carbon British economy as the country gets in line behind international actions on climate change. The briefing paper from the Church of England said distinctions, however, should be made between hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in and of itself and the need to transition to a clean economy.

"If developing the techniques of fracking provides an alibi for relaxing efforts to reduce carbon consumption, it is obviously unhelpful," the church said.

The British Department for Communities and Local Government sided in favor of oil and gas companies, issuing a 600-page ruling that said shale natural gas work in the country was a national interest. Shale gas could help offset the British economy's dependence on foreign reserves to meet domestic demands.

From the Church of England's standpoint, the British shale gas sector won't be on par with the growth seen in the United States. To date, only one British shale gas well utilized hydraulic fracturing.

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