Fair fracking? Ethics and environmental justice in United Kingdom shale gas policy and planning

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The exploitation of shale gas resources is a significant issue of environmental justice. Uneven distributions of risks and social impacts to local site communities must be balanced against the economic benefits to gas users and developers; and unequal decision-making powers must be negotiated between local and central governments, communities and fracking site developers. These distributive and procedural elements are addressed in relation to UK policy, planning, regulatory and industry development. I adopt an explicitly normative framework of policy evaluation, addressing a research gap on the ethics of shale gas by operationalising Shrader-Frechette’s Principle of Prima Facie Political Equality. I conclude that UK fracking policy reveals inherent contradictions of environmental justice in relation to the Conservative Government’s localist and planning reform agendas. Early fracking policy protected communities from harm in the wake of seismic risk events, but these were quickly replaced with pro-industry economic stimulation and planning legislation that curtailed community empowerment in fracking decision-making, increased environmental risks to communities, transferred powers from local to central government and created the conditions of distributive injustices in the management of community benefit provisions. I argue that only by “re-localising” the scale of fracking governance can political equality be ensured and the distributive and procedural environmental injustices be ameliorated.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)185-202
Number of pages18
JournalLocal Environment
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 27 May 2016


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