How could Sheffield be affected by fracking?

A drilling rig at a fracking site in the US (photo: INEOS)
A drilling rig at a fracking site in the US (photo: INEOS)
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More campaigners are mobilising amid concerns over the potential impact of fracking on Sheffield.

There have been no applications within Sheffield to carry out the controversial drilling process, used to release shale gas trapped in rocks far beneath the earth's surface, nor are any believed to be imminent.

Anti-fracking campaigner Dave Dickinson with his mascot Fracked Ali

Anti-fracking campaigner Dave Dickinson with his mascot Fracked Ali

But the chemicals giant INEOS has applied to begin exploratory work close to the city at both the Bramleymoor Lane site near Marsh Lane, in Derbyshire, and at the Harthill site in Rotherham.

The company also intends to apply to carry out similar work, which would not involve fracking itself, near Woodsetts, in Rotherham.

Should fracking take place there or elsewhere in the UK, waste water could be treated at FCC Environment's existing facility on Starnhill Close, in Ecclesfield, it is understood.

Around 50 people gathered at Ecclesfield School on Tuesday for a meeting titled 'Are We Going To Be Fracked?' which was organised by the campaign group Frack Free Penistone & Stocksbridge (FFPS).

Anti-fracking campaigners at a rally in Sheffield

Anti-fracking campaigners at a rally in Sheffield

Speakers there claimed INEOS and other firms wish to 'turn the north into a gas field'.

David Kesteven told those assembled that fracking could cause huge noise and disruption for local communities, with large numbers of tankers coming and going from the drilling sites.

He claimed numerous studies had shown the process, in which water mixed with sand and chemicals is blasted into the ground, was both harmful to the environment and to the health of local people - especially if waste water containing the original additives and contaminants including naturally occurring radioactive materials escapes and pollutes the water table.

And he said the growth of renewable energy in the UK, coupled with a plentiful supply of gas from abroad, meant there was no justification for fracking.

Campaigners outside FCC Environment's waste treatment plant in Ecclesfield

Campaigners outside FCC Environment's waste treatment plant in Ecclesfield

He urged people in the area to form their own local campaign group, with several members of the audience expressing an interest in doing so.

Ecclesfield East councillor Andy Bainbridge said he understood a planning application from FCC to treat fracking waste at its Ecclesfield plant was imminent.

He told how he opposed fracking in Sheffield but his biggest concern at this stage about the treatment plans was the possibility of extra traffic in what he said was already a congestion hot spot.

Dave Dickinson, who lives in Burncross and runs the Sheffield Environmental campaign, said: "Fracking is unacceptable wherever it is. For it to be coming to our doorstep, for local residents that's totally unacceptable."

INEOS has applied to carry out exploratory drilling at the Bramleymoor site near Marsh Lane

INEOS has applied to carry out exploratory drilling at the Bramleymoor site near Marsh Lane

But Steve Wilson, another councillor for Ecclesfield East, said he was 'neutral' when it came to fracking, and felt there was a lot of 'scaremongering' surrounding the process.

"This is not a new technology. As long as it's done correctly, with the right environmental controls in place, I don't believe it's any more dangerous than a lot of other processes that are already taking place in the UK. I think there's a lot of scaremongering going on," he said.

"Unfortunately we have to accept we will be using gas for some time, and it's much cleaner than oil or coal.

"I'm not for or against fracking. All I would say to people is that they should read the evidence."

INEOS and other companies already hold a number of Petroleum Exploration and Development Licences, issued by the Oil & Gas Authority, covering the whole of Sheffield and much of Yorkshire.

But these do not entitle the holders to begin fracking, or to carry out any exploratory drilling, for which they must obtain planning permission from the local authority.

A spokesman for INEOS said: "INEOS is currently in the process of exploring and analyzing the geology of our license areas for suitably for shale development.

"In the Sheffield area that means survey work that will have minimal impact on local people. This work will allow us to determine what sites we want to progress to test drilling and eventually, extraction stage.

"When we talk to local people in areas where we do have projects we discuss the 6 per cent of revenues that are shared by the local community, that a single well could generate £1.3 million for home and land owners and £600,000 for communities, and how our projects bring jobs and investment into an area."

The Government claims fracking could reduce the UK's dependence on overseas gas and can be done safely, without significant harm to the environment, provided it is rigorously regulated.

But the process has already been banned in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, along with other countries including France and Germany, due to concerns over its effect on the environment and public health.

Sheffield Council last year passed a motion opposing fracking on any council-owned land.

Phil Daly, who founded the campaign group Sheffield Against Fracking, said he believes public opinion is hardening against fracking, as more people learn what it involves

"We have it on good authority that Sheffield is not actually in INEOS's major plans at the moment, though that doesn't mean they won't come into the area at some point," he said.

"But potentially you have villages on the edge of Sheffield which could be affected, like Ridgeway and Mosborough, where people like INEOS have been asking to carry out seismic surveys on people's land.

"Even though Sheffield isn't earmarked for fracking, a lot of the routes used by the large tankers involved would run through the city.

"Once they've fracked and taken that water out, the waste water will contain radioactive materials. If a spill happens in Sheffield, what's the clean-up plan?"

WHAT DO PEOPLE SAY ABOUT FRACKING?

Does the UK need shale gas?

INEOS claims shale gas is needed to replace diminishing reserves in the North Sea. It says the industry could create over 64,000 jobs in the UK and generate vast sums in tax revenues.

But protesters say the UK exports 30 per cent of the gas it produces. As for those 64,000 jobs, they say only 6,100 would be for people directly employed within the gas industry, with the rest created indirectly.

Does fracking pose a risk to public health?

Campaigners say research in Pennsylvania shows fracking has been associated with a 27 per cent increase in people being admitted to hospital with heart problems. It has also been linked, they say, with increased numbers of skin and respiratory conditions, and with birth problems. Sheffield Against Fracking says New York State banned fracking on grounds of serious risk to public health following a rigorous six-year study.

INEOS says a Public Health England report, published in 2013, shows the risks to public health from fracking are low if operations are properly run and regulated. It says chemical additives make up just 0.5 per cent of the fracking fluid, and these are commonly found in household food and cleaning products. Although waste water may contain naturally occurring radioactive material, this is present in many foods like bananas and nuts, and regulations are in place to ensure it is stored and disposed of safely.

Will it affect house prices?

INEOS says there is 'no material reason' why it should lower your house price as developments only involve 'relatively minor and temporary disruption'. They also point out that INEOS proposes to share four per cent of revenues with homeowners in the immediate vicinity of wells, and a further two per cent to the local community. They say it is not fracking itself that could lower house prices, but 'misinformation' which exaggerates the risks.

Campaigners say a government paper estimated property prices within a mile of fracking sites could drop by seven per cent. They also quote a study in the US, which found the value of homes in Pennsylvania within a kilometre of fracking wells fell by 12.9 per cent.

Could it help reduce carbon emissions in the short term?

Campaigners say although burning gas produces less carbon dioxide than burning coal, methane produced during fracking is 86 times more damaging than CO2 over a 20-year time frame. They also say renewable energy is growing rapidly in the UK and investing more money and research into this would be more effective than relying on shale gas.

INEOS says gas is the most 'environmentally responsible' energy source in the UK as coal is phased out and the nation moves to low-carbon alternatives. It says the industry is committed to minimising methane emissions through comprehensive monitoring.

* Information from Sheffield Against Fracking and INEOS.