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Opposing Shale Gas Will Increase Fuel Poverty, Church Of England Warns

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Fiona Harvey, Sam Jones and Matthew Taylor, The Guardian

The Church of England has entered the fracking debate, arguing that “blanket opposition” to the controversial method of extracting gas risks ignoring the needs of those in fuel poverty and undermining efforts to find less polluting fuels.

The church’s intervention came as the head of the UK’s leading fracking company, Cuadrilla, appealed for calm from protesters as hundreds more activists prepared to descend this weekend on the small village of Balcombe in West Sussex, which has become the centre of a row over the process.

In a statement the church warned that there was “a danger of viewing fracking through a single-issue lens and ignoring the wider considerations”.

Despite saying it had “no official policy either for or against hydraulic fracturing”, the church pointed out that many people were living in fuel poverty, adding: “Blanket opposition to further exploration for new sources of fuel fails to take into account those who suffer most when resources are scarce.” Philip Fletcher, the chair of the CofE’s group on mission and public affairs, added that while there were clearly “issues and risks” involved in fracking – “we do not want cowboys and cavaliers digging up the land in a free-for-all exploitation” – the potential benefits of the method should not be overlooked.

He said: “Fuel poverty, the creation of jobs, energy self-sufficiency and the development of technology that may reduce the impact of more polluting fuels, are just some of the factors which need to be taken into account in any debate alongside the concern we all have about the impact of fossil fuels upon climate change.”

Reports earlier this week had suggested that the church commissioners – who manage the CofE’s assets – were seeking to cash in on fracking by using ancient land ownership laws to register mineral interests. The church dismissed the suggestions, saying it was “factually incorrect” to relate the registration programme with fracking, adding there was “absolutely no link”.

The RSPB, one of the UK’s biggest conservation charities, meanwhile, also weighed into the debate with an objection to the local councils of two fracking sites.

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