Urgent talks are being sought by national park chiefs with an international firm amid escalating fears that it is seeking to conduct major fracking operations in North Yorkshire.
The North York Moors National Park, protected from the controversial drilling process within its borders, will hear in weeks if it along with other authorities has secured an extended “buffer zone” to offer greater security.
Now, as Ineos Shale is reportedly preparing applications to drill exploratory boreholes around the park’s southern edge, the authority is seeking clarity on the company’s intentions.
“We are seeking to meet this month with the chief executive of Ineos to try and dissuade them from exploration,” a spokesman said. “Bearing in mind the great environmental assets in this county, and its importance to the tourism economy, we are taking a very precautionary approach.”
While fracking, which involves a high-pressure water mixture directed at rock to release shale gas inside, is banned within the park’s borders, it is possible to drill sideways from sites on its boundaries.
Ineos Shale’s operations director, Tom Pickering, said: “Ineos Shale believes in the proven safety of shale extraction. Therefore whilst drilling will never take place in a national park, we can frack underneath without impact on the surface above.
“In support of this activity we want to do a geological survey in 2018 to build a 3D picture of the rock strata before drilling test wells to establish the best places for extraction.”
The North Yorkshire Moors Association’s chairman, Tom Chadwick, said such development is “simply not acceptable,” adding: “It’s too much of a risk for an area designated a national park. There’s no question it’s intrusive - this is an open landscape.”
Confirming meetings had been held in November with Ineos representatives, the park spokesman said this had been over plans for exploratory testing this coming summer to “assess the situation”.
“Our response was that you can’t frack within this protected landscape,” he said. “Their view was they just wanted to build up a geographical picture. At no point did they say they wanted to frack laterally into the national park.”
While the landscape within North Yorkshire’s two national parks, the North York Moors and the Yorkshire Dales, is protected within law, plans have been drawn up by North Yorkshire County Council, York Council and the park authorities to ensure greater security.
Four years in the making, and dubbed “the bible” for guiding future planning decisions, the county’s Minerals and Waste Plan is set to go to public examination in the spring. If approved, the national park spokesman said, it could mean that unless there are “absolutely proven exceptional circumstances”, it would be very difficult to drill in these areas.
“This, we could argue, would constitute an intrusive, industrial activity coming into a protected landscape, albeit underground,” he said. “If shale gas exists outside the national park - and it does in abundance - then there’s absolutely no justification for hydraulic fracturing under the national park landscape.”
Anti-fracking campaigners have been staging protests in North Yorkshire over recent months since Third Energy’s site in Kirby Misperton, near Malton, won approval.