Campaigners and companies ready for battle over South Yorkshire ‘fracking blitz’

Fracking is due to begin at the Cuadrilla gas site, Preese Hall in Weeton.
Fracking is due to begin at the Cuadrilla gas site, Preese Hall in Weeton.

Campaigners today vowed a fight for the future of South Yorkshire’s countryside as battle lines are drawn over potential fracking in the region.

Large swathes of South Yorkshire and North Derbyshire are being opened up to fracking companies for exploration.

A general view of an exploration drilling site for fracking.

A general view of an exploration drilling site for fracking.

Areas being explored in the region are to the east of Sheffield – stretching from Killamarsh and Dinnington up past Rotherham towards Bolton-upon-Dearne.

A total of 27 new licences, mostly in the North of England, have been awarded to companies to explore for oil and gas as the Government looks to push forward with a shale industry in the UK.

And a further 132 areas – many in the region to the west and south of Sheffield – will also be awarded subject to further environmental assessments.

The Government says thousands of jobs could be created and provide an energy source that will ‘keep the lights on’ in the UK in future.

But with the vast majority of the agreed and prospective locations in the North of England, opponents have warned widespread fracking will hit house prices and tourism, as well as increasing noise and traffic congestion.

Fracking, the extraction of gas from shale deposits deep underground, is popular in former coal seam areas places such as the USA and Poland.

Andrew Pendleton, Friends Of The Earth head of campaigns, said: “Opening up huge swathes of Northern England to a fracking blitz will only provoke more anger and controversy, because wherever fracking has been proposed, it has been opposed by local people.

“The Government’s own report into the rural economy impacts of fracking highlights a myriad of concerns, including a drop in house prices, impacts on tourism, and increased noise and traffic congestion – not to mention local environment and climate risks.

“These offered licences to frack will cause yet more anxiety for people living under the cloud of fracking.”

But Energy minister Lord Bourne said: “As part of our long-term plan to build a more resilient economy, create jobs and deliver secure energy supplies, we continue to back our onshore oil and gas industry and the safe development of shale gas in the UK.

“Keeping the lights on and powering the economy is not negotiable, and these industries will play a key part in providing secure and reliable energy to UK homes and businesses for decades to come.

“It’s important we press on and get shale moving, while maintaining strong environmental controls. Investment in shale could reach £33 billion and support 64,000 jobs creating financial security for hardworking people and their families, whilst providing a cost-efficient bridge to lower-carbon energy use.”

Companies which have been successful in securing the 27 licence areas that do not require further assessment have been told they will formally be offered the licences later this year.

Some 132 areas included in the latest onshore oil and gas licensing round needed further assessment over potential impacts to protected nature sites, with proposals for licence conditions put out for consultation.

In total around 1,000 square miles of England is covered by the licences that have been confirmed, with a further 5,000 square miles subject to consultation.

Among those companies which have won the 27 licences is Cuadrilla, which is appealing against two refused applications to frack for shale gas in Lancashire and which has secured a licence for a new area between Barnsley and Doncaster.

Ineos, whose plans for shale gas exploration in Scotland have so far been thwarted by a moratorium in the country, has won two blocks to the east of Sheffield.

The most successful company was IGas, which has secured seven areas to the north east of Sheffield, the north east of Barnsley and around Lincoln.

The licences announcement comes after the Government revealed measures to fast-track planning applications for fracking, with ministers able to step in and take over decision-making from councils on any application.

The latest Government polling shows public support for fracking slipping away, with just a fifth of people backing the extraction of shale gas for use in the UK.