Battle lines drawn over shale gas fracking in Doncaster

Pete Kennedy (l), Lisa Sayle and David Burley, of Frack Free South Yorkshire, are protesting about fracking in South Yorkshire. Picture: Andrew Roe
Pete Kennedy (l), Lisa Sayle and David Burley, of Frack Free South Yorkshire, are protesting about fracking in South Yorkshire. Picture: Andrew Roe

Battle lines are being drawn between environmentalists and an international energy firm over controversial proposals for shale gas fracking.

French energy giant Total has confirmed it is to invest around £30 million in the controversial process to the east of Doncaster, which could affect several communities including Bawtry, New Rossington and Finningley.

The announcement came as protesters accused the government of “bribery” after Prime Minister David Cameron revealed Doncaster Council will get a cash boost if the authority gives the green light to fracking projects.

Doncaster-based Frack Free South Yorkshire has vowed to campaign against any such plans amid environmental concerns about the process, which involves drilling wells to pump high-pressure liquid underground to release gas from fractured rock.

Group spokesman Pete Kennedy, aged 23, of Auckland Road, Town Moor, said: “Fracking in other countries has caused water and air pollution. We will be fighting any such plans as much as we can.”

Energy firm Total has taken a 40 per cent share in two sites within the Gainsborough Trough, which have licences from the Department of Energy and Climate Change that allow companies to explore for shale gas.

A map of one of the areas, called Petroleum Exploration and Development Licence Area (PEDL) 139, shows Bawtry, Bircotes, Misson, Austerfield and Everton fall within the boundary. The outskirts of New Rossington and Finningley also appear on the border line.

Singapore-based Dart Energy also has licence to explore shale gas in these two sites. Last November, the firm said they were preparing a planning application before the end of 2014 to drill in an unspecified site near Bawtry.

It is understood Total are preparing planning applications to build drilling wells. The firm has not yet revealed exact sites for drilling wells or a timetable for when this could happen.

Patrice de Vivies, Total’s senior vice president for Northern Europe, said: “This opportunity is an important milestone for Total E&P UK and opens a new chapter for the subsidiary in a promising onshore play.”

But Frack Free South Yorkshire has gathered more than 100 names on a petition against any such scheme and is planning a series of public meetings to gain further support.

Mayor of Bawtry, councillor George Spencer, said: “We have not received any notifications about the plans as yet. If the response from residents is overwhelmingly negative then we will respond accordingly to reflect that.”

Donncaster Mayor Ros Jones, said: “Doncaster Council has not received any applications from companies to undertake hydraulic fracturing within our area.

“We have just learnt about these new Government proposals and will need to look at them in more detail. However, any future applications for shale gas extraction would need be considered carefully by the authority, taking into account all of the relevant factors including the local environmental impact.”

The council could earn millions from the project.

David Cameron said councils which give the green-light to fracking projects will be allowed to keep millions of pounds more in tax revenue. The Prime Minister said local authorities would receive 100 per cent of the business rates collected from shale gas schemes - rather than the usual 50 per cent.

But Mr Kennedy accused the government of “bribery”. He said: “The government is sweeping aside environmental concerns in favour of financial benefits. It’s bribery.”

Labour MP John Mann, who represents Misson and Bircotes, said the government’s estimate that council’s would make £1.7 million per year per fracking site was “over egging the pudding.”

He added: “The government had been giving out incoherent figures on fracking.”

David Cameron argued that the UK had the “strongest environmental controls” and pledged: “Nothing would go ahead if there were environmental dangers.”