Campaigners try to block plans for fracking in Devon
Campaigners are attempting to block any future plans to exploit potentially rich underground gas reserves in Devon and Somerset by using a drilling technique which has been known to trigger earthquakes.
Parts of the region have been identified by the government as potentially containing lucrative reserves of shale gas, which can be extracted by hydraulic fracturing, so-called “fracking”.
Plans to use the controversial process, which involves injecting high pressure water and chemicals into shale rock to blast out trapped natural gas, have already been labelled “sheer folly” by South West Liberal Democrat MEP Graham Watson.
Now a new pressure group has formed in Devon which is urging the county council to adopt a blanket policy of refusal to any attempts to drill.
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Friends of the Earth (FOE) spokesman Maurice Spurway said people should be concerned.
He added: “Fracking could be coming here – the eastern part of the county is designated as an area where licensing for fracking could be authorised by the Government. Frack Free Devon is a campaign to persuade Devon County Council to adopt a policy of refusing applications to drill for shale gas and refusing to accept the toxic waste from these activities.”
The extraction technique is widespread in the USA but the only drilling so far in Britain is taking place in Lancashire.
Work by Cuadrilla Resources, at Preese Hall well, near Blackpool, was temporarily halted after the work was found to have caused earthquakes.
A Government document has identified large areas of eastern and southern England as having the best potential – with large deposits found in Dorset and Somerset. The Department for Energy and Climate Change report last year included maps indicating types of shale in Devon and even Cornwall.
A map produced by the British Geological Survey (BGS) clearly shows a zig-zag shaped area crossing Somerset, from Minehead to Lyme Regis, rich in a fine mudstone known to contain the gas.
The BGS said the rocky outcrop of Lias could represent the tip of a much larger deposit of gas-rich material, but much more detailed assessments were required before the scale of any operations could be known. Geologist Ed Hough said companies would need to drill deep bore holes before the commercial prospects for the Westcountry was known, with licences and permits required as well as planning permission.
“There are rocks rich in organic matter of a similar age and type to those which have proved commercially viable in the USA,” he added. “We don’t know if they will be commercially viable here until developers undertake deep and detailed seismic exploration.
“It is nowhere near that stage at the moment – we are probably looking at five years to a decade if we started now and everything went smoothly.”
Somerset County Council said it was “keeping a watching brief on the issue”. A spokesman added: “To date no approach has been made to the county council for pre-application discussion on fracking, and no applications have been submitted to us as Minerals Planning Authority for Somerset.”
Devon County Council said its minerals team was also unaware of any applications or proposals to undertake any work.