Fracking Update

Tuesday 21st January 2014

Following the Prime Minister’s announcement earlier this week, that Councils can keep 100 % of business rates they collect from shale gas sites, the AONB have published an updated Position Statement on Fracking. The statement outlines the coalition government’s economic case, sets out concerns and reaffirms the AONB’s position that urges a very cautious approach to fracking.

Sarah Jackson the AONB Manager said, “the AONB Partnership have serious reservations about fracking taking place within the designated landscape with regard to possible impacts on the character of the landscape from buildings and structures, on aquifers and the water table, and on wildlife.” She added, “We are not aware of any planning applications to date in or near the designated landscape but will be consulted on any that do come forward. We are actively working with colleagues from Somerset Council, B&NES and North Somerset Council and Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) to get a good understanding of issues and how best practice can be ensured.”

Visit Somerset is supporting the Mendip Hills AONB on its fracking position. John Turner, Vice Chairman of Somerset Tourist Association said “the Somerset countryside, particularly the protected landscapes such as the Mendip Hills AONB contribute significantly to the tourist economy of Somerset as well as being enjoyed by those that live and work here. It is very important that this is not forgotten when financial incentives are being offered to communities. In welcoming the potential economic benefit that fracking may, we must remember that the long-term reputation, economic benefit and pleasure that the Somerset Countryside brings to its people should not be squandered for short term benefit.”

For further information on fracking and its implications for Somerset please read the Joint Somerset Council’s Energy Minerals Topic Paper June 2013 Oil and Gas/EnergyMineralsTopicPaper

 Some facts about Fracking in Somerset

Is there likely to be fracking in Somerset?
Somerset is not considered to be one of the major areas for shale gas exploration in the UK. The area of focus appears to be the Northeast and Southeast England.

Where is Somerset is Fracking most likely to occur?
The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has issued a license to explore for shale gas in an area that stretches over the Mendip Hills in an area that extends from Bruton to Street in the south and to Nailsea and Kenysham in the north. In late 2012 an application was submitted to Bath and North East Somerset Council to sink a borehole aimed at the Westphalian Coals, however the application was withdrawn in early 2013.

What is the concern over fracking having an effect on the Bath hot springs?
There is some concern that deep level ground working arising from sinking a bore hole or fracking could possibly have an effect on the bath hot springs. To look into this further, the British Geological Survey (BGS) was commissioned by B&NES to undertake a study on hydrocarbons and other potential extraction in the Bath and North East Somerset and surrounding area.

How have Councils reacted?
Mendip District Council has issued a motion stating their concern that fracking may have an impact on; the Mendip Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB); the local water supplies; the hot springs water supply in the nearby city of Bath.

Councillor Paul Crossley, Leader of B&NES Council, said, “Whilst the Council is yet to assess the full detail of the Government’s proposal, our prime concern remains retaining the integrity of the natural hot springs. We have obtained the very best expert advice on this matter and there is little to suggest otherwise than there is a potential for damage to the deep water sources that supply the springs in Bath. The process of fracking in the region could result in the water courses leading to the natural hot springs being contaminated from this process, or for the waters to adopt a different direction of travel through new fractures in the underlying rocks.

“The hot springs are a crucial part of the tourist attraction that sustains thousands of jobs in the city and generates millions of pounds for the local economy. The loss of these would be catastrophic having far-reaching effects for the overall offer of the West of England area. In short, we would not take any short-term Business rate gain at the expense of the Springs.

“The springs are a fundamental and unique element of Bath’s heritage, as a signatory to the 1971 UNESCO World Heritage Convention, the UK Government has committed to ‘identify, protect, conserve, present and transmit’ such places to future generations. We trust that the Government will continue to retain its overall commitment to this.”

How have CPRE reacted?
CPRE’s Director Shaun Spiers says, “If fracking goes ahead, it should only be as a temporary measure to ensure fuel security and reduce the use of coal. In the longer term, the Government must commit to an energy strategy that moves away from dependence on fossil fuels. A transparent and democratic planning process is needed to direct shale gas exploitation to the least damaging locations; tough regulations must minimise its impact, both long-term and short-term, on the landscape, water resources and local people; and the industry must commit to adequate compensation for any damage caused, and meet demanding restoration conditions. The countryside has always provided us with fuel, but with fracking we have every right to be cautious. The decisions we take now could have a huge impact both on the beauty and tranquility of rural England, and on Britain’s ability to address climate change.”
CPRE’s reaction to Prime Minister’s announcement that Councils can keep 100 % of business rates they collect from shale gas sites CPRE warns against “price is right” approach