An unholy row has blown up over claims that the Church of England has given its support to fracking.
The claims were made by shale support group Backing Fracking after a report into the emerging shale gas industry was drawn up by the Church’s Mission and Public Affairs Council and the Environment Working Group.
The Church has previously stated that it “has no official policy either for or against hydraulic fracturing” but shale gas supporters say the new report now backs the industry.
In a statement Backing Fracking quoted Garstang-based priest and former geologist, Michael Roberts – a shale gas supporter aligned with Backing Fracking.
He said: “As a priest in the Church of England, I welcome the briefing on fracking which recognises that, properly carried out, it is not an impending environmental disaster.
“It has saddened me over the last few years how strident voices in the churches have misled church people by sharing scare stories on fracking, rather than carefully looking at all sides as this briefing does.
“I’m pleased to see the Church reach the conclusion it has, and hope that it will now fill the void created by Friends of the Earth, by ensuring that the facts about fracking are made available to churches and communities across the UK.”
But the Church of England has now moved to say the report does not back fracking, instead it is just a briefing paper for discussions.
Malcolm Brown, head of Mission and Public Affairs said: “This is not a policy paper. It is a briefing paper to outline key issues and to highlight that fracking is not morally different from any other extractive industry – it’s about context.”
The report makes several conclusions including that shale gas was potentially useful in making the transition to a low carbon economy but the key to whether it was morally acceptable hinged on the robustness of the regulatory regime and the robustness of local planning and decision-making processes and that affected communities should be protected and compensated.
Anti-shale groups on the Fylde have blasted the claims.
Dr Stephen Garsed, from the Blackburn Diocese Environment Group, stated: “This is a briefing paper which sets out factual information from the government and other sources to support discussion of the complex moral and social issues associated with fracking. It is clear that it is not a policy paper or a position paper.
“Rev Michael Roberts lobbying for Backing Fracking, has taken it out of context and misrepresented it to promote his own personal crusade in support of fracking.
“In doing so he has trivialised the first stage in the Anglican Church’s quest to have a serious moral debate on this question. He has also taken the opportunity in his statement to add another chapter to his vindictive campaign against Friends of the Earth. He speaks entirely for himself.”
Helen Rimmer of Friends of the Earth said: “The Church of England are mistaken. Opening up a new fossil fuel industry will not help us move to a low carbon economy, and regulation cannot make fracking safe. The idea that it could be a transition fuel is now widely discredited. It would take the best part of a decade to set up a new fossil fuel industry in the UK.”
A furious row over the claims blew up on line with a series of tweets.
Backing Fracking posted photographs of the Archbishop of Cantebury with a pro-shale slogan.
The Preston New Road Action group hit back saying: “The fracking industry’s front group has told some mighty whoppers!”
However, Backing Fracking said it now accepted that the report did not give outright backing. It said it was : “prepared to concede that whilst the briefing paper implies tacit backing for fracking under certain conditions, which is what we based our original comments on, it stops short of saying that it is now Church of England policy.
However, it is clear that this paper, produced by powerful voices in the Church, will influence its policy in this area.”