New ‘fracking’ fears as latest drilling licences include South Downs National Park

Celebrations when Celtique Energie's application to drill for oil and gas at Fernhurst was rejected by the SDNPA
Celebrations when Celtique Energie's application to drill for oil and gas at Fernhurst was rejected by the SDNPA
  • New licences for drilling include three areas in the Chichester, Bognor Regis and Midhurst area
  • Two are in the South Downs National Park
  • Chief executive of the park expresses disappointment MPs have not supported the government’s commitment to ban fracking in national parks

THERE are new fracking fears as the latest batch of exploratory drilling licences includes blocks in the Chichester, Bognor Regis and Midhurst areas.

And concern has been heightened by new regulations approved in the House of Commons which could threaten protected areas such as the South Downs National Park (SDNP).

The latest licences came the day after the House of Commons approved regulations which would allow drilling in protected area below depths of 1,200 metres, but with surface infrastructure outside their boundaries.

But SDNP chief executive Trevor Beattie has warned: “Landscape is not skin deep.

“We are disappointed Wednesday’s vote in Parliament did not support the government’s clear commitment to ban fracking under national parks, by making it possible to apply for permission to frack under our precious landscape.”

He said the national park awaited the results of a separate government consultation on surface development restrictions in national parks, which would determine restrictions on surface drilling, “as the regulations approved on Wednesday only cover what happens below ground.”

Frack Free Fernhurst campaigner Marcus Adams said: “Our real concern is the government has reneged on its previous promise not to allow drilling in the national park. Whilst there will not be infrastructure in the park, it does open up the real prospect of having reneged once, they will do it again if they find its economically beneficial.”

He said he was concerned that the latest round of licences included two areas well inside the park south of Midhurst.

“These cannot be reached by drilling laterally from outside the park - its impossible. The only way would be to allow a rig inside the boundary, and this to me is a strong indication that this could be allowed in the future.”

More than 100 blocks have been handed over to fracking companies in the 14th licencing round announced on Thursday.

They include an area south of Cocking straddling the A286 and another further south between Singleton and East Lavant both in the South Downs National Park.

Another large area has been awarded to Igas north of Bognor Regis which dips into the park at its most northerly point.

It means drilling companies can now begin the process of looking for land owners willing to lease land and submitting planning applications. Brenda Pollack, campaigner for Friends of the Earth accused the government of a ‘U-turn’ on its earlier promise to protect drinking water and to implement an ‘outright ban’ on fracking in national parks and AONBs.

She said the new licences could open the door further for controversial unconventional gas exploration and production such as fracking for shale oil and gas.

Plans by Celtique Energie for exploratory wells inside the national park at Fernhurst and outside between Wisborough Green and Kirdford were both rejected last year

Campaigners in both cases warned the plans could eventually lead to fracking.

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