UK

Church Of England Seeks Rights To Minerals Under Buildings Amid Fracking Row

16/08/2013 09:21 BST | Updated 16/08/2013 13:19 BST

UPDATE: The Church of England has issued a statement where it says it has "no official policy either for or against hydraulic fracturing [fracking]".

It continued that it was concerned “fuel poverty is an increasingly urgent issue for many in society - the impact on energy bills is felt most by the least well off. Blanket opposition to further exploration for new sources of fuel fails to take into account those who suffer most when resources are scarce.

“I would want to emphasise along with all those that care for the environment the importance of proper controls in relation to any form of fracking – we do not want cowboys and cavaliers digging up the land in a free for all exploitation.

“Clearly all carbon based fuels contribute to global warming and are less than ideal in terms of climate change. However, it should also be recognised that gas is less damaging than coal and to preclude properly managed technical development is to risk denying ourselves more important, less polluting and less costly options than the energy sources on which we currently rely.

“Fuel poverty, the creation of jobs, energy self-sufficiency and the development of technology that may reduce the impact of more polluting fuels are just some of the factors which need to be taken into account in any debate alongside the concern we all have about the impact of fossil fuels upon climate change.”

The Church of England has begun legal action to claim its share of the fracking frenzy, seeking to register mineral rights to the earth underneath church properties.

More than half-a-million residents across England have been receiving letters from the Land Registry, informing them of the CofE's right to the earth's riches, a move which could pave the way for it to profit from the controversial practice.

Fracking involves fracturing rocks deep underground with highly-pressurised water and chemicals to extract oil and natural gas, and is widely supported by the government as a way to cut Britain's energy bills.

church of england

St Mary's, Snettisham, near King's Lynn in Norfolk

David Cameron has insisted the whole country should accept fracking, claiming it will attract "real public support" when the benefits are explained, such as potentially cutting energy bills.

The Church's claim to the land under its properties is being made under ancient “lords of the manor” laws which date back to the Norman Conquests, giving landowners rights to the earth under their properties.

The government has asked landowners to register by October if they wish to retain the rights.

The Church said in a statement it had no plans to mine under its churches. "There is absolutely no link with fracking, where details of rights remains unclear,” a spokesman said.

But the statement did not explicitly rule out the possibility of exploiting the minerals in the future.

Several key figures in the church have raised concerns about the environment effects of fracking.

The Diocese of Blackburn published a leaflet in Lancashire which said fracking could threaten “God’s glorious creation”, according to the Telegraph.

“Fracking causes a range of environmental problems," it read. "The time we spend thinking, praying and acting now to protect our drinking water, and the rest of God’s glorious Creation cannot compare with the time succeeding generations could potentially spend trying to make good what will likely happen if we in the church remain uninformed and silent."

The Bishop of Chichester, the Right Rev Dr Martin Warner, whose diocese covers the site at the centre of protests at Balcombe, West Sussex, has also warned that fracking raised “huge questions about our contemporary lifestyle”, according to The Times.

“It is easy, but also dangerous, to claim the moral high ground in complex debate about the environment and our quest for new energy sources," he said.

"The rich resources that fracking can unlock come with some questionable consequences, both for the present and the future.”

The news from the church comes as energy company Cuadrilla announced it was scaling back its exploratory oil drilling operation as up to 1,000 extra protesters prepare to hold anti-fracking protests.

The firm said it was acting on police advice to wind down its work near Balcombe as campaigners behind the Reclaim the Power camp move in to the area for six days.

A Cuadrilla statement said: "After taking advice from Sussex Police, Cuadrilla is scaling back operations ahead of this weekend's No Dash for Gas event.

"During this time, our main concern is the safety of our staff, Balcombe's residents and the protesters following threats of direct action against the exploration site.

"We will resume full operations as soon as it is safe to do so."

No Dash for Gas said: "There are two stories that could emerge from Balcombe this summer.

"It could be the place that paved the way for a dirty and dangerous method of fuel extraction to tear up the country, or it could be the place where a group of ordinary people inspired the world by taking back the power.

"We are here, together with dedicated people from Balcombe, to make sure that it's the latter."

The chairman of Balcombe Parish Council, Alison Stevenson, to urge people planning to break the law to stay away.

In an open letter, Stevenson said the village strongly opposed anyone planning to take part in illegal activity.