Report warns countryside could be ‘littered’ with fracking wells

A fracking rig in the north west
A fracking rig in the north west
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The countryside would have to be “littered” with fracking wells before the technology could significantly reduce Britain’s reliance on gas imports, a new report warns today.

Research for Friends of the Earth suggests that one well would have to be drilled and fracked every day for 15 years to produce enough gas to replace just half of future imports.

Drilling on such a scale would have “potentially terrible consequences” for the rural landscape, the report warns.

Seven gas firms have licences to explore whether fracking is feasible across vast swathes of Yorkshire, with the Prime Minister saying in February that the process of extracting shale gas from rocks deep underground could reduce the nation’s reliance on imported energy.

But last month the Government refused to publish a confidential Cabinet Office report on the subject, arguing that doing so “could call into question the industry’s viability”.

Today’s research, conducted by Prof Calvin Jones of Cardiff Business School, finds that at least 6,100 wells would be required to replace just half of the UK’s estimated gas imports. If the new wells produced gas at the lower end of expectations, the figure could rise to 16,500, Prof Jones said.

Rose Dickinson, of Friends of the Earth, said a widespread roll-out of fracking would mean “an industrialisation of our countryside at a rate that nobody has yet fully appreciated”.

Ms Dickinson said: “One well would have to be drilled and fracked every day for 15 years to replace just half of our gas imports.

“This would and would put many more communities in the firing line of this dirty and unwanted industry.

“We need to know what the scale actually looks like, and it’s not looking good for our countryside.”

The campaign group Friends of the Earth says the land needed to support 16,000 wells would cover more than 9,600 hectares – equivalent to 13,000 football pitches.

Fracking has been stopped in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – leaving only England, and in particular Yorkshire, the North West and East Midlands, where industry attention is focused, available for development.

Daniel Carey-Dawes, of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: “The fracking industry has always been clear that fracked gas would replace what’s currently imported, but what wasn’t clear was the scale of land take that would involve.

“The many thousands of wells that would be needed, peppered across our precious landscapes, would cause harm to the English countryside on an industrial scale. With technologies now enabling us to effectively harvest renewable energy sources, this is where our efforts, time and money should be invested.

“The English countryside we know and love is the breathing space for us all. It must not become an industrial testing ground for a fracking industry that has no environmental, economic or social licence.”

Prof Jones’ report says: “There is no evidence that fracked gas can be brought to market at sufficiently low cost, and sufficiently great volume to make any significant profit, or to make any difference to the UK energy position.”

Nearly two-thirds of the natural gas imported to the UK comes via pipeline from Norway.