What is Fracking?
Fracking, fracturing bedrock by injecting water and other substances under pressure to release oil or gas in commercially useable quantities has a long history. It has been used in the UK for decades, for instance at Wytch Farm in Dorset.
Fracking came into the news locally in 2016 when the Government announced the results of the 14th onshore oil and gas licencing round. This involved competitive bids being sought for a large number of 10km Ordnance Survey grid squares, or blocks, across the country.
Amongst the blocks that were awarded covered 400 square kilometres of southern Herefordshire, Gloucestershire and Monmouthshire.
The northern boundary of this area runs approximately from the Hereford to Monmouth road (A466) near LLangrove in an easterly direction, crossing the A40 just north of Whitchurch and ends near Dursley Cross south of Newent. The western boundary just includes Monmouth, Trellech and Tintern.
While the southern limit for exploration runs east from the Tintern area, crossing the Chepstow to Gloucester road (A48) near Woolaston before ending on the English side of the River Severn near Berkeley station. From here a line due north completes the boundary of the area to be explored. These four blocks were awarded to South Western Energy Limited (SWE) from Bridgend to seek coal bed methane.
However in 2017 they decided not to take the licences preferring to focus on other, potentially more productive, areas in South Wales.
CPRE Herefordshire will continue to work with colleagues in Gloucestershire to monitor the situation. Nationally CPRE’s position hardened during 2017 to opposing fracking until it can be proven to be safe. One concern is that the government has already over-ruled local planning authorities’ rejection of planning applications.
Early in 2018 Caudrilla reported signs of a sizeable quantity of natural gas at its shale exploration site in Lancashire. These were apparently in line with estimates made in 2013 by the British Geological Survey for a rock type known as the Bowland Shales which underlie large areas of northern England.
The company has permission to drill up to four wells at the site and is expected to begin drilling its first exploratory horizontal shale well in January. The government has yet to give final consent for fracking but ministers have repeatedly said that they support the development of a shale gas industry. Another company – Third Energy – is awaiting government consent to start fracking in North Yorkshire.
Changes to Planning Requirements
On 17 May Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth (Parliamentary Under Secretary in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government) announced proposals to make changes to the planning system to make it easier to drill for shale gas in England. If the proposals are approved drilling in future will be classified as 'permitted development'. This was introduced originally so that home owners could make modest changes to their properties - like small extensions - without the need for a planning application. For the Government's written statement click here.
Extending the definition of permitted development means that drilling could proceed without the need for planning applications, environmental impact asessments or local democratic participation. In addition the Government is introducing a new Shale Environment Regulator to amalgamate some relevant functions of the Environment Agency, the Health and Safety Executive and Oil & Gas Authority. This is intended to begin work in the summer
At present over 17000 square kms in England is licenced for shale gas exploration - an area roughly equivalent to the size of Wales. The consultation on these proposals is expected in the summer.