Fracking safety fears for former coal-mining areas of Yorkshire taken to Government regulator

Protest groups against fracking have been set up across Yorkshire and in North-East Derbyshire.
Protest groups against fracking have been set up across Yorkshire and in North-East Derbyshire.
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Concerns about the safety of conducting fracking in former coal-mining areas of Yorkshire have been taken to the Government’s regulator in charge of overseeing the development of the shale gas industry.

Rother Valley MP Kevin Barron has met with the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) and written to the organisation to ask whether research has been commissioned into how the process of extracting shale gas hundreds of feet underground using a high-pressure water and chemical mixture on rocks will work in areas where there are believed to be abandoned coal mine workings under domestic dwellings.

Mr Barron, himself a former coal miner, whose constituency in South Yorkshire includes two areas where planning applications have been submitted for exploration work to assess the feasibility of fracking, said: “Both the sites in Rother Valley at Harthill and Woodsetts are based around old coal mine workings with many of the abandoned coal mine workings under domestic dwellings.

“Many residents have contacted me worried that this has not been properly looked into and it could cause major damage to their homes or surrounding areas.”

The OGA said it has commissioned the British Geological Survey to assess the maximum depth and location of historic coal mines in South Yorkshire and the East Midlands using Coal Authority data, with the study not expected to be complete until April.

It comes ahead of an eight-day public inquiry into whether exploration work by petrochemicals giant Ineos should be allowed at Harthill starting on April 24.

Mr Barron said: "The OGA survey does not go far enough, it locates the old mine workings but does not assess the impact of fracking on them which is what I have been calling for."

He added that completing "it will not be possible to study the information" from the study in detail prior to the public inquiry, given the findings are not due until the same month.

Seven companies have been granted licences for shale gas exploration work across Yorkshire and test fracking is due to start imminently in North Yorkshire outside the village of Kirby Misperton if the company involved, Third Energy, has its financial accounts signed off by the Government.

It is expected to be the first test fracking since an investigation in 2011 found that it was “highly probable” shale gas test drilling by firm Cuadrilla had triggered earth tremors in Lancashire.

The OGA said stringent safety measures are imposed on fracking, with operators needing to submit a formal Hydraulic Fracture Plan (HFP) to assess risks of causing seismic activity.

A spokesman added: “The OGA must be satisfied that controls are in place to minimise disturbance to those living and working
nearby, and to reduce the risk of any damage. The OGA requires that the operator monitors the deep background seismic activity long in advance of, during and after its fracking operations.

“It is very unlikely that fracturing will initiate a seismic tremor but, if it does, and the tremor is above a certain threshold magnitude, the operator must immediately suspend injection and reduce well pressure.”

The OGA also said operators are required to monitor the ground movement caused by any tremor, and operations would be suspended until the HFP is “scrutinised”.

Councillors to decide on exploration plan

Councillors will decide this afternoon (Monday) whether to support or oppose shale gas exploration work on the Deryshire-South Yorkshire border ahead of a public inquiry this summer.

Derbyshire County Council’s planning committee are to decide on the council’s position over a proposal by Ineos to explore shale gas reserves off Bramleymoor Lane in Marsh Lane, a village a few miles outside Sheffield.

Their decision will be advisory as the proposals are already set to be considered by a Planning Inspector at a public inquiry starting on June 19 as part of an appeal. The appeal was started by Ineos in December because it was not prepared to allow more time for the council to make a decision on its planning application.

The meeting is being streamed live online on the council’s website from 1pm.