Friends Of The Earth Dismiss Industry Calls To Frack North Of England Before The South

Energy company chief claims there would be fewer objections to fracking in former mining areas
Energy company chief claims there would be fewer objections to fracking in former mining areas

Campaign group Friends of the Earth has dismissed comments made by the head of a shale gas exploration company calling for the Midlands and the North to be fracked before the South.

Neil O'Brien, chief executive of Alkane Energy, said there would be less opposition in areas such as Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire because they have a background in coal mining.

But Simon Bowens, Friends of the Earth's Yorkshire and Humber campaigner, said Mr O'Brien was "massively wide of the mark".

Test drilling began last week at a site in Balcombe, West Sussex, in the face of protests by local people and environmental activists, who are concerned about potential harm to the water table, as well as the possibility of minor earthquakes. Energy company Cuadrilla insists that its current operations will not involve fracking in the area.

Mr O'Brien told The Times: "I think there is a lot to go at in the more traditional heartlands.

"These areas have much more of a heritage of energy. North Nottinghamshire used to be a mining area, with big lorry movements and big bits of kit."

He added: "A drilling rig appears anywhere now and people get in a tizz and start to demonstrate. When the mood music is all protest and argument, it does not help. I would be a lot happier to have a few pilot projects in more traditional heartlands first. Some people would not notice we are there."

His comments come after Tory peer Lord Howell of Guildford sparked outrage by suggesting that fracking should be confined to ''desolate'' parts of northern England.

But Friends of the Earth insisted fracking would not be welcomed in the North.

"Neil O'Brien is massively wide of the mark if he thinks that people in Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire are going to roll over and accept the massive environmental risks that fracking present," Mr Bowens said.

"Our history of living alongside the damaging effects of the coal industry will actually sharpen people's resistance to more pollution and impacts on their quality of life. The clear message from communities from Balcombe to Barnsley, from Nottingham to the North West, is that they don't want fracking."

Former government chief scientific adviser Sir David King said fears that fracking would cause earthquakes were "irrational", although he acknowledged tremors were possible and there would be an "aesthetic" impact.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "There's no question that there is a whole set of rather irrational fears I think, including the generation of earthquakes.

"It is certainly possible that there will be tremors, and we know this from the practice in the United States."

Worldwide there has been more than a million wells created "so we know quite a lot about the impact".

But he said the threat of contamination of surface water was a risk.

"This is one of the issues that has to be dealt with, with very careful legislation," he said.

Sir David, who was chief scientific adviser to the government from 2000 to 2007 and now advises UBS bank, also acknowledged that "leakage of gas into the atmosphere" was a real issue and had a "far greater effect" than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas.

He added: "Also, there's the aesthetic issue that we can't duck. We're going to need to sink something like 1,000 to 2,000 wells in the short term in this country. In the United States they are currently sinking around 25,000 wells a year.

"Twenty-five thousand wells a year can be absorbed in a large country, a low density population in the United States, without too much impact on the local environment and aesthetics.

"But this is a much bigger issue in a country like the United Kingdom where we have a very high density population."

He added that it was important for the Government to continue to invest in alternative energy forms in order to make the move away from fossil fuels.

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