Feature: Battle lines are drawn as Derbyshire fracking inquiry nears
Take a walk or a drive through the north Derbyshire village of Marsh Lane and you can't help but notice the sea of bright yellow signs.
They are scattered all over and have one clear message: We don’t want fracking here.
For around 18 months now residents in the village and other surrounding areas have fought hard to get their voices heard.
They have attended public meetings, parish council and county council meetings, set up a group which meets monthly, staged peaceful protest marches and many other events to raise awareness of the proposals by oil and chemical firm Ineos to carry out underground drilling on Bramley Moor Lane.
Throughout the long process they have had to overcome a number of hurdles, but have admirably shown true grit and togetherness to what they see as protecting their community.
Arguably their biggest success was winning the support of Derbyshire County Council’s planning committee in February, as councillors voted against the proposals nine to one.
Although the vote did not mean the fracking tests won’t go ahead, it was important for residents to win the support of the council ahead of a public inquiry next month.
Two weeks ago that decision was looked at again during an ‘emergency’ meeting, as the county council’s sub-committee members were asked to reconsider on the basis that independent experts, appointed by the council, had found that there was no sufficient evidence to back up the argument that traffic from the development would have an unacceptable impact on local roads and road safety.
It was another blow for the residents who were given just 24-hours’ notice of the meeting.
In the end, the sub-committee voted by two to one to continue with a case on traffic grounds as well as harm to the open nature of the greenbelt and unacceptable night-time noise.
The next step, and the biggest yet, is the public inquiry starting from June 19 in Chesterfield at the Assembly Rooms.
This will involve arguments being heard from both sides and then a final decision will be made by the Planning Inspectorate on behalf of the Government.
The inquiry came about after Ineos appealed, stating that the council was taking too long to make a decision - something the authority denied. Ineos was heavily criticised for what people saw as a disregard for local democracy.
The inquiry will hear that Ineos wants to erect a drilling rig 60-metres tall and drill around 2,400 metres below the ground to check the suitability of the rock for fracking - the process of injecting water and chemicals at high pressure into rocks deep underground to create tiny cracks so shale gas can flow up a well to the surface and be collected. No actual fracking will take place during this stage and another planning application will have to be lodged for this to happen.
Speaking about the upcoming inquiry, David Kesteven, chairman of Eckington Against Fracking, said: “We are submitting our witness statements so we have eight local witnesses who are representing our evidence and we think we have got a really good case so I am looking forward to it because it’s the wrong place for an exploratory well and I can’t wait to tell the inspector.”
One of their witnesses will be MP for North East Derbyshire, Lee Rowley, who Mr Kesteven said he was pleased was on-board. Fighting the Ineos plans has taken over the lives of many dedicated residents, so will it be a relief when it is all over?
“I can’t wait for it to be over,” Mr Kesteven said. “I have never tried so long and so hard at anything like this before. But all we are trying to do is stop our lives being ruined by this greedy development.”
Mr Kesteven said the main points they will be trying to get across are that the development is too close to homes, the noise, how it will be unsuitable for the roads, that it is a prominent location within the greenbelt and wildlife issues.
He added that he believes the village has been lucky in that no seismic surveys have been carried out like in places such as Bolsover and Harthill, South Yorkshire, which resulted in a number of unsavoury accusations.
“We are expecting them to pull a few more stunts out,” Mr Kesteven said. “We will play by the rules. The public inquiry is the pinnacle of the planning process and that is what we want and we can’t wait.”
A spokesman for Ineos Shale said: “Ineos Shale is disappointed that a planning inquiry is necessary for this decision. The application in question is for test core drilling at Marsh Lane and Ineos feels that it offers the right amount of mitigation for the council’s concerns as part of what is straightforward application. Nevertheless we look forward to making our scientific case. The application allows for the drilling of a single vertical core bore well to gain scientific knowledge of what is below the surface, which has been agreed by many councils many times in the past to support its coal industry across the region. This is no different.
“It is important to note that a completely separate application must be made for the extraction of gas. Shale gas is a resource that is of strategic importance to the UK and issues of energy security always have to be factored in.
“The key message here is that if shale gas proves to be successful in the UK it will become a vital piece of the nation’s infrastructure, and will provide the UK with its own source of gas making it less dependent on foreign supplies. It will also generate enormous levels of investment and jobs in the north of England where they are desperately needed, and will also help the UK to meet its climate change commitments.”
The spokesman added: “The resources beneath our feet can be used to create jobs, heat our homes, go a long way towards self-sufficiency and improve our balance of payments and the environment all at the same time.”