Fracking companies entitled to licences on more than 60% of British land

About 32,000 square miles of Britain are believed to have potential for shale development, with the biggest concentrations of wells expected to be in Lancashire and the Sussex Weald.

In 12 weeks' time, the frack dealers that run this country could be forcing through a swathe of drilling licenses that would affect every single one of us - potentially causing irrevocable damage to our health and our wild ecology. Are we really going to let them get away with it?

The UK government is to open up thousands of square miles to drilling for shale gas reserves, potentially leading to hundreds of rigs dotting the countryside.

From the Sunday Times article:
The process will begin on Tuesday when Michael Fallon, the energy minister, unveils a report detailing the environmental and social impact of fracking, the controversial process that frees gas by blasting rock formations with jets of water and chemicals.

The government is also considering changes to fast-track the creation of hundreds of fracking sites by changing the system for awarding licences to companies that want to drill for gas and oil.

Shale regions would be divided into boxes as small as a few hundred acres, each with its own licence giving companies the right to prospect.

Fallon is also expected to spell out some of the disruption likely to be experienced by residents, including up to 48 lorries a day arriving at fracking sites — known as gas pads — for up to two years while they are being built. Often the traffic will have to travel along winding lanes; in some cases new roads could be required.

The government is expected to conclude that the risks of despoiling the countryside and polluting water supplies are not enough to outweigh the benefits of fracking. Supporters of shale gas believe it has the potential to supply Britain’s energy needs for decades and bring down household bills.

Ministers have already said communities can expect to receive £100,000 in compensation for each well dug in their area in addition to 10% of the turnover they generate.

Fallon, who has warned that residents “right across the south” should be ready for possible fracking, is expected to say that the area of the country covered by licences could be increased substantially from the current 7,300 square miles. About 32,000 square miles are believed to have potential for shale development, with the biggest concentrations of wells expected to be in Lancashire and the Sussex Weald.

One shale oil drilling site - in Balcombe, West Sussex - has already been the focus for angry protests. Not even national parks or areas of outstanding natural beauty will be exempt from potential drilling.

Lawrence Carter, energy campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said: “Local environmental impacts from fracking are likely to be considerable, whether you’re talking about truck movements, water use or flaring.

“Residents in villages where fracking is proposed live there because the areas are tranquil and clean. They will be neither if fracking is allowed.”

The environmental report to be released this week, drawn up by the consultancy Amec, will be open to consultation for 12 weeks before the government announces early next year how it plans to award the licences.

At present, companies are given licences to prospect across broad regions. Cuadrilla Resources, the drilling firm that claims to have found nearly six decades’ worth of domestic supplies under Lancashire, won a single licence covering 1,200 sq km (463 square miles) of the region when the government last held an auction in 2008. Its licence area in the southeast is spread over 800 sq km.

The fast-track process under consideration to replace this would mean that the maximum block of land covered by one licence could be as small as 10 sq km, according to Whitehall sources. The change is designed to prevent a single company from scooping up too many of the most attractive areas and to speed up development.

When companies are awarded licences they commit themselves to drilling a certain number of wells within six years. If they fail to comply, the licences are surrendered back to the government.

By increasing the number of licensed zones — with drilling obligations — the companies will be forced to drill or lose their rights.

George Osborne, the chancellor, has said shale gas could bring “thousands of jobs, billions of pounds of business investment, and lower energy bills”. However, Amec is understood to have played down the potential for large-scale job creation. Rather than the 74,000 jobs initially hoped for, it is expected to estimate that between 15,900 and 24,300 will be created.

Beauty spot drilling bid:

The fracking industry faces the threat of new protests after submitting an application for 24-hour drilling in the South Downs national park, writes Jon Ungoed-Thomas.

Celtique Energie has submitted the proposal for an exploratory site to be sunk next year in Fernhurst, West Sussex, in an area of outstanding natural beauty.

Lord Cowdray, who owns a 16,500-acre estate in the South Downs, is among locals opposing the drilling site. He has registered his ownership of the verges adjacent to the site, which could block access for lorries.

He has also said he will legally challenge any attempt to frack oil or gas from his land.

Marcus Adams, founder of Frack Free Fernhurst, said: “If they get approval to drill here, then nowhere is safe.”

He said the company would risk facing similar protests to those seen at an exploratory drilling site at Balcombe, West Sussex, where more than 1,000 protesters set up camp in the summer.

Andrew Tyrie, the Conservative MP for Chichester, whose constituency covers Fernhurst, has said it would be “very unlikely” he would support drilling in such a sensitive area.

— at South Downs National Park.