Fracking fears for South Yorkshire as Government makes areas around Sheffield available for exploration

A general view of the Cuadrilla exploration drilling site in Balcombe, West Sussex.
A general view of the Cuadrilla exploration drilling site in Balcombe, West Sussex.
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Areas around Sheffield could face fracking after new licenses were awarded for oil and gas exploration.

Some 27 areas, including in South Yorkshire and North Derbyshire, have been awarded to companies to explore for oil and gas as the Government seeks to push forward with a shale industry in the UK.

A further 132 areas, including parts of the West Country and the south coast as well the North East and North West, are set to be awarded subject to further environmental assessment and conditions to protect wildlife and habitats.

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.

“This is why the Oil and Gas Authority has moved quickly to confirm the winners of licence blocks which do not need further environmental assessment.

“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.”

But Greenpeace said the announcement had fired the starting gun for the “fight for the future of our countryside”.

Spokeswoman Daisy Sands said: “Hundreds of battles will spring up to defend our rural landscapes from the pollution, noise and drilling rigs that come with fracking.

“The Government is backing the destructive fracking industry with tax breaks and by stifling local opposition.

“It seems clear that the Government is responding to the vigorous lobbying from the fracking companies by ignoring both the economic and environmental evidence that clean, renewable energy is a far better bet for investment and the planet.”

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 those licences later this year.

Some 132 areas included in the latest - 14th - 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.

Companies will be offered the licences for those areas subject to the outcome of the consultation, and all the licences will be granted after terms and conditions have been finalised, the OGA said.

OGA chief executive Andy Samuel said: “With almost 100 applications received, the 14th onshore round has attracted significant interest and high-quality proposed work programmes from a range of oil and gas companies.

“Today’s announcement regarding the offer of 27 blocks gives those successful companies assurance about the blocks that they will be formally offered later in the year.”

In total around 2,700 square kilometres, equivalent to 1,000 square miles, of England is covered by the licences that have been confirmed, with a further 13,200 square kilometres (5,000 square miles) subject to consultation.

No new licence areas are being awarded in Wales or Scotland in this licensing round, the Government said.

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, now that the Government is allowing companies to drill right through aquifers that are used to supply household drinking water.”

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 and another for an area between York and Bridlington.

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 and one south west of Mansfield.

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 local councils on any application.

The move to overcome the local opposition oil and gas companies keen to exploit the resource have come up against prompted furious opposition from campaigners who claimed it rode “rough shod over democracy”.

Ministers hope development of onshore gas supplies in the UK will boost jobs and the economy, bring down energy prices and make the country less reliant on foreign imports.

But opponents fears the process of extracting gas by hydraulic fracturing - or fracking - causes earthquakes, can pollute water supplies, could lead to inappropriate development in the countryside, damage house prices and cause more climate emissions.

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, the lowest level since the Department of Energy first polled people on the issue in December 2013.

*Full report and reaction in tomorrow’s Star