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Environmentalists have referred to the policy change as a bribe.
“(Cameron’s government) is cutting local council budgets, so they have less money and need more,” said Anna Jones, a member of Greenpeace’s U.K. branch. “You can’t have an objective body deciding whether to allow fracking if they stand to make a load of money from it.”
But some cash-strapped localities seem to see fracking as their best option: In a recent BBC poll, 44 percent of North West Englanders said they were in favor of fracking, 34 percent were against it, and 22 percent were undecided.
Environmentalists hope to convince undecided Britons that the economic benefits don’t outweigh the costs.
They’ve taken to the streets and have even overtaken fracking test sites by gluing themselves to drilling equipment.
Their main message: Despite what Cameron’s government says, fracking is unsafe. They point out that Total can’t frack in its home country because France has banned the practice over safety concerns.
Total’s investment and the intense response it has generated may be signs of things to come.
Analysts say that if Total is successful in its initial drilling, a flood of frackers may come running to Britain. Countries that have banned the practice may, in turn, take notice, and fracking could spread across Western Europe as fast as it has across the U.S.
And activists say that just as in the U.S., frackers should expect a fight at every turn.
“Despite an increasingly garish public-relations campaign from the government, the industry is losing," Wendy Rainer, an organizer with U.K. protest group Frack Off, told Al Jazeera in an email. "The reality is that each well the fracking companies attempt to drill is being met by months of community blockading and millions in policing costs.”