PRIME Minister David Cameron is coming under pressure to personally promise that fracking in Yorkshire will be safe for residents, property and the countryside.
Yorkshire MP Anne McIntosh, who chairs the Environment and Rural Affairs Select Committee, has written to the Prime Minister demanding answers over the potential impact of the controversial drilling method on the Yorkshire countryside as battle lines on the issue start to be drawn in the region.
The Prime Minister yesterday again voiced his support for fracking as he warned the European Union against unnecessary regulation which could prevent shale gas exploitation.
Mr Cameron said “cheap and dependable” sources of energy, such as shale gas, could hold the key to encouraging companies which once exported jobs to return them to the UK.
Ms McIntosh has asked Mr Cameron to explain where the gallons of water used in the process will come from, how it will be disposed of safely and whether the Government can promise there will be no threat of “seismic disruption” as a result of fracking.
Her letter represents the biggest challenge yet to the Government’s increasingly enthusiastic backing for fracking from its own backbenchers.
It has emerged as the Yorkshire Post launches its ‘Big Debate’ on fracking today as battle lines are being drawn over the issue across the region.
And next month Yorkshire Post readers will have the chance to take part in a public debate on the issue in York.
Ms McIntosh wrote to the Prime Minister after he backed fracking earlier this month and declared “we’re going all out for shale” as councils were offered cash incentives to approve wells.
Her letter called on Mr Cameron to offer scientific evidence that fracking will not cause long term problems and to be clear about the regulation surrounding waste water from the process.
Despite high profile protests at test-drilling sites, Ministers have enthusiastically backed shale gas extraction, pointing to figures suggesting it could support 74,000 jobs as well as increasing UK energy security and potentially lowering energy bills.
Writing in the Yorkshire Post today, Tony Lodge, from the Centre for Policy Studies think-tank, says opposition will quickly wane.
“While the professional protest community will warn of Armageddon, they will inevitably become yesterday’s news.
“The real story is the vast opportunity of again utilising our indigenous energy reserves and maximising their potential in the national interest.”
Licences to explore for oil and gas have already been issued covering large parts of South Yorkshire, North and North-East Lincolnshire, and East Riding as well as and around York, Ryedale and an area of the North York Moors National park.
A joint minerals plan being drawn up by North Yorkshire County Council, the North York Moors National Park Authority and York Council is set to be one of the first tests for how Yorkshire councils will respond to planning applications for fracking operations.
In a consultation due to be launched next month, people in the area are expected to be asked whether they think the three authorities should “support the principle” of shale gas development or “not express support” because “of the uncertain nature of the impacts and risks involved”.
Residents could also be asked if shale gas exploration should only be allowed away from “sensitive” locations including historic sites.
Gareth Dadd, North Yorkshire County Council’s executive member for planning, said: “We want the widest possible cross section of people to take part and we will be having an informed debate.
“The advice we have been given hitherto is that we can’t just reject something because we don’t like fracking. As each application comes forward it will have to be judged on its own merits and according to national guidelines.”
Coun Dadd stressed the limits of council powers in this area but campaigners are seeing it as a test case. Russell Scott, spokesman for the group Frack Free Yorkshire, said: “Frack Free North Yorkshire will be encouraging our members and the public to strongly oppose any plans to allow fracking within North Yorkshire.
“Fracking has caused contamination of groundwater, air pollution and has been liked with many other negative environmental problems in the US and Australia.
“We are also concerned about the human and livestock related health problems linked to fracking Activities – for those reasons we will be encouraging the people of North Yorkshire to vote against the councils plans to pursue shale gas extraction in our county.
He added: “We also hope the councils consider all of the risks associated with fracking and adopt a minerals policy that doesn’t pursue this very dangerous form of unconventional gas extraction.”
YOUR CHANCE TO TAKE PART IN A PUBLIC DEBATE ON FRACKING
The Yorkshire Post is to hold a public debate on fracking – and we want you to take part.
The event will be held on February 12 at the Cedar Court Grand Hotel in York, starting at 6pm. The panel will include Mark Hill, head of development management at the North York Moors National Park Authority, Linda Cowling, leader of Ryedale District Council, and Friends of the Earth.
To attend please email Jayne.Lownsbrough@jpress.co.uk. Please include your name and a contact telephone number and a question you would like to ask. Please also put fracking debate in the email header. Alternatively please write to Jayne Lownsbrough, Editor’s Secretary, Fracking debate, Yorkshire Post, No 1 Leeds, 26 Whitehall Road, Leeds, LS12 1BE.