Shale lobbyists accused of creating fake pro-fracking campaign

Protesters play fight with feather dusters during an anti-fracking demonstration outside County Hall in Preston, Britain, June 23, 2015. (Reuters / Phil Noble)
Fracking lobbyists have been forced to deny they created a pro-shale campaign group by roping in students. The allegations come as protests against planned shale gas extraction continue in Lancashire.

Westbourne Communications, whose clients include Centrica and Cuadrilla, said on Tuesday it didn’t rope in students from a local college for a pro-fracking photo opportunity after the Morning Star alleged the students were being used to create “a positive image.”

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Geology students from local Blackpool and Fylde College were pictured with a “Students for Shale” banner on the steps of the Lancashire County Council building last week.

Allegations of the stunt come as the county council held a meeting on whether to allow drilling to go ahead.

Fracking firm Cuadrilla is hoping to gain permission from the council to begin shale gas extraction.

Local councilors debated the matter on Wednesday morning, with a vote expected to occur later.

Labour councilor Marcus Johnstone said the matter was one of the biggest planning applications any local authority has ever had to decide on. He said councilors had received thousands of emails and are under intolerable pressure.

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“I didn’t have very good night’s sleep,” he said.

Independent councilor Paul Hayhurst acknowledged that even expert government agencies could not be completely reliable on the matter.

“The experts do get things wrong, and badly wrong on occasions. These are government agencies, a government that has committed itself to shale gas,” he said.

Five hundred local activists have been protesting the plans in the Lancashire town of Preston.

Demonstrators say extracting shale gas in the local area would pose health and other risks to the community, including earthquakes and pollution of the water table.

Co-founder of Frack Free Lancashire Ebony Johnson said: “If we don’t have a healthy community people won’t be able to work. It’s too dangerous to risk contaminating our water. This should come over any economic considerations.”

Local resident and protester Alistair Mackenzie told the Guardian health is one of the demonstration’s main concerns.

“We have kids who are hoping to have children and we are seriously concerned with what we understand will be poisonous gases produced by fracking.

“What’s not been taken into consideration is the number of health issues it could cause and the strain it could put on the NHS.”