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Wednesday, 01 October 2014

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Fears Cumbria could be site for ‘fracking’

Concern is growing about the possibility that Cumbria could be a possible site for the controversial underground gas extraction technique called fracking.

The Government last week gave the go-ahead for a firm to resume the hydraulic fracturing technique, which involves pumping water, sand and chemicals under high pressure into deep boreholes to force out shale gas.

Despite worries about the environmental impact, Energy Secretary Ed Davey has said the gas was a promising and secure potential future energy source for the UK.

Boreholes have already been drilled at a potential extraction site near Canonbie, north of Carlisle, and the Government has identified areas near Silloth and in west Cumbria as possible locations for shale gas extraction licences.

Edinburgh University-based Professor Stuart Haszeldine, who has warned that west Cumbria’s geology is too fractured to be suitable for an underground high level radioactive waste repository, said the idea pointed to an “incoherence” within the Department for Energy and Climate Change.

He said: “If you fracture rock you make it more unstable. There would be a strong conflict of interest [with the desire to have an underground waste repository].

“We have a patch of ground which one part of the Government says is suitable to licence for shale gas extraction, producing fractures which would go right through the zone where another part of Government is proposing radioactive waste should be buried.

“It’s an either or situation. Part of the criteria for a repository is that you should exclude all areas which could potentially be explored by somebody in the future for something valuable.”

The professor said the Government appeared to be now ignoring the investigations of the 1990s which rejected the area as a possible site for an underground dump.

Elizabeth Whaley, secretary of Canonbie community council, said there was widespread concern within the area about the gas extraction plans for nearby Broad Meadow and an area called Mouldy Hill.

She said the firm involved has now said the process that would be used was called “dewatering”, though the details of how it will work were still to be explained.

Meanwhile, the Campaign to Protect Rural England has also expressed concern.

The group says any fracking must meet three strict criteria, in that it should:

avoid a severe impact on landscapes, given the potential for visual intrusion caused by drilling boreholes;

only be approved after proper public consultation and consideration of environmental impacts through the existing planning system;

be consistent with maintaining progress towards climate change targets.

Paul Miner, the group’s senior planning officer, said: “Before commercial scale extraction happens, there must be a full and transparent planning process.

“The Government doesn’t appear to have recognised the potential for major landscape damage, or the need to properly consider this at the local level. If fracking is to happen, it must be with the support of local communities, and without damaging the countryside.”

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