Local authorities across Britain have moved to deny any “conflict of interest” after it was revealed some of the councils that will decide the fate of the UK’s fledgling fracking industry have invested millions into the companies seeking their permission to drill.
An investigation by the Independent revealed on Sunday that some local authorities sitting on top of Britain’s natural gas reserves hold shares in fracking firms through their pension funds.
Journalists found that West Sussex County Council has indirect holdings in the shale gas company Cuadrilla, whose operations near the West Sussex village of Balcombe provoked determined protests from residents last year.
Among others, Lincolnshire County Council’s pension fund has also invested almost £2 million in Total, the oil giant that has already invested £30 million into two potential drilling sites in Lincolnshire.
Each of the councils involved deny a conflict of interest, with all councils except Lincolnshire telling the Independent that shares had been via investment funds.
On Monday, Lincolnshire County Council also insisted that the councillors who sit on their pension committee would have no say over future decisions regarding Total’s drill sites.
“Councillors who sit on this committee do not sit on the planning committee, and so have no bearing over planning applications,” a spokesperson said.
However, considering the potential health and environmental impacts of fracking, environmental campaigners have urged the councils involved to sell their holdings in the firms.
“Fracking is already a dirty enough industry without getting mired in the murky waters of conflicts of interest,” said Simon Clydesdale, energy campaigner for Greenpeace UK.
“Councils must disinvest and show local voters that they can be trusted to put the interests of their constituents first when making crucial decisions on fracking applications.”
Scientists, environmentalists and governments across the world hold a number of concerns over the possible impacts of fracking.
The process works by fracturing rocks with water and chemicals, releasing the natural gas contained within them. It has been linked to water contamination, leakage of the potent greenhouse gas methane and an increased risk of earthquakes.
Investors have also warned that shale gas may prove an unwise investment as efforts to curb climate change are increased.
Despite this, the UK government has welcomed fracking firms with open arms, offering sizable tax-breaks to the industry while also planning to give companies the right to drill on private land without permission.