Firm to carry out fracking probe

A multinational chemicals giant controlled by a British billionaire is widening its scope for fracking in the region after it revealed it was to carry out large-scale testing on vast swathes of the countryside.

A shale fracking rig.

Rotherham Council has received formal notification from energy company INEOS that it intends to undertake a 3D seismic survey across part of the borough for six months, starting on June 5.

The firm, whose boss Jim Ratcliffe has been nicknamed “JR” after the oil magnate in the TV series, Dallas, has submitted details about the areas to be surveyed and how it will be undertaken.

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The full survey area covers around 96 square miles - seven in Rotherham - and also includes parts of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.

Subject to certain restrictions and after giving prior notification to the council, planning permission is not required as government planning rules state that it is ‘permitted development’.

INEOS states that it is carrying out the work to gain a better understanding of the geology and rock formations below the ground to understand where shale gas might be located.

But campaigners say the move will just pave the way for fracking.

A spokesperson for Frack Off said: “The reality is if they survey the area, they know where to site test wells.

“Seismic surveys are one step closer to fracking.”

INEOS owns a number of Petroleum Exploration and Development Licences (PEDL) across the region. These give the company exclusive permission to explore for onshore oil and gas within each licence area.

However, Rotherham Council has stressed no fracking would be undertaken as part of the survey and so far it had not received any planning applications for hydraulic fracturing in the borough.

Paul Woodcock, the authority’s assistant director for planning, regeneration and transportation, said: “Subject to certain restrictions, the company is permitted to undertake the seismic survey without planning permission in line with national planning rules. However, any further development, including test drilling to explore for shale gas below ground, will require full planning permission.”

Whilst INESO is not legally required to provide an Environmental Impact Assessment for the survey, this was requested by the council. In response, the firm will submit an report addressing the aspects of water environment, ecology, noise, landscape and visual effects, and cultural heritage. The council will make this information available on its website.

Earlier this month The Yorkshire Post revealed INEOS had submitted an “environmental screening” report to Rotherham Council. It plans to follow it with a formal planning application for a vertical well to extract samples of rock for laboratory analysis. It is the second exploration well the firm has proposed in the region, following a similar application near the village of Marsh Lane, south of Sheffield. The process of extracting shale gas by drilling down into the earth - fracking - is hugely controversial. Environmental campaigners say it has led to earthquakes and contamination of the water table.

An open evening is being organised by Harthill Against Fracking tonight, which will include presentations and information on the dangers of fracking.

Last May, councillors in North Yorkshire sparked a huge wave of protest when they approved the UK’s first fracking project in five years, in the Ryedale village of Kirby Misperton.