"One man's bribe is another man's compensation" is how Chris Mason summarised the government's announcement this week to potentially offer local people up to £10,000 in return for fracking in their area. That analysis is all very well, but let's consider it more closely. Where compensation is the more positive approach to a situation, it is obvious something has gone wrong, or at least will do in the future.
The government have failed time after time, year after year, to convince the public to go 'all out for shale', as has been the Whitehall mantra since 2010. They have now given us an admission of defeat, but unless local people continue to resist intimidation and temptation, this may well be the beginning, not the end, of the 'shale gas revolution' in the UK.
Under the guise of the concerned politician, ensuring she is seen to be working solely for the many, not the elite few, Theresa May presents the shale payments as 'making sure people personally benefit from economic decisions' and putting local people 'back in control over their lives'. However, the reality is that this announcement, and the assumption that local people will be keen to participate, shows that this government, under the 'caring' Theresa May, is treating locals and those in opposition to fracking with contempt. Putting a price on the social and environmental effects of fracking on communities is a shun of local activists and scientists alike from the UK, US and Australia who have given evidence to show earth tremors, water pollution, agricultural contamination, noise, visual effects, and all of which destroying tourism in the area. Not to mention that fracking has been proven to lead to few local jobs, and most jobs created are highly specialised, requiring expertise from further afield. To suggest that all this is worth merely £10,000 is arrogant and patronising.
If Mrs May truly believes in giving local people 'control' and genuinely rewarding them rather than compensating them, she must realise that local renewable energy schemes are the way forward. The impact of onshore wind and solar farms, once built, are minimal, with sites having to be at least nearly 1km from homes, with visual impacts minimised further by tree planting and other such schemes. Furthermore, there is little noise, no pollution, and no harmful emissions. However, most importantly, almost all renewable energy schemes involve a community payback program, allowing local people to invest in the profits of the projects while also benefiting from discounted energy bills from a sustainable source. Other investment and payback schemes, such as a local fund from the renewable energy firm which charities and local groups can use, are often used too. This isn't bribery or a cheap pay off, as all this comes after the wind or solar farm is built. Rather than a promise of payment to woo local people, because local opposition is so strong, renewable energy genuinely rewards locals for putting their faith in sustainability. Innovation and rewarding local people; why does Mrs May turn this down, when these supposedly correlate to her core passions?
There's only so long we can continue to scrape the barrel of fossil fuels, no matter how many new methods we find of extracting them. Shale gas is no 'revolution', its a compromising alternative at best. This government needs to stop seeing pound signs, and instead see the people on the frontline of fracking. So whilst one man's bribe may be another man's compensation in the fracking industry, one man's innovation can be another man's reward, if this government would only take a greener path.