Today’s columnist, Peter Garbutt: Countryside under threat

An exploratory fracking drilling rig of the type that could potentially be used at Misson.
An exploratory fracking drilling rig of the type that could potentially be used at Misson.
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Last month the Department of Energy and Climate Change announced that four exploration licences covering Rotherham and east Barnsley will be offered for oil and gas underground exploration.

More licences will follow, covering 300 square kilometres from Barnsley, through Sheffield, to as far as Greenhill and Dore. Another area will extend from Stocksbridge and Bradfield into the Peak District to Langsett Reservoir in the north and Strines in the south.

All the new licences are for shale gas. To release it rock has to be cracked or shattered using a relatively new process called high volume fracking. Companies drill down into the shale and then pump millions of gallons of our drinking water and toxic chemicals at extreme pressure to crack the rock. Most of this used water returns up the well with the gas and the chemicals but is also contaminated with heavy metal compounds and radioactive substances from the shale.

What will it mean for local communities? Horizontal drilling can only extend for two kilometres – so lots of wells are required. If well casings fail, and they do, chemicals can leak into our water, and gases can escape into our air. Contaminated water can be treated at only four locations in the UK so big trucks will become a regular sight in fracked villages.

The Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs wrote recently: “Shale gas may transform a previously pristine and quiet natural region, bringing increased industrialisation. As a result, rural community businesses that rely on clean air, land, water and/or a tranquil environment may suffer losses from this change, such as agriculture, tourism, organic farming, hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation.”

Recent surveys show public opposition to fracking. That opposition becomes overwhelming when people understand what fracking means – awareness and education are the key. Faced with an urgent need to support renewable energy and keep fossil fuels in the ground, this Tory government is doing the exact opposite. The extraction of shale gas is difficult, dirty and inefficient and it will accelerate climate change.

Sheffield Green Party supports the work of Frack Free South Yorkshire. They are undertaking detailed analysis of the new licence areas and will be going out into communities holding public meetings, film screenings, doing mass leafleting and building local campaign groups. Fracking needs to be stopped before it starts.

* Peter Garbutt, the Sheffield and Rotherham Green Party