Fracking is “incompatible” with protected landscapes and should be the very last targets for so-called lateral fracking by gas extraction firms, the director of planning at the North York Moors National Park Authority said.
The process of hydraulic fracturing is legally banned from the surface inside the boundaries of national parks, but seven firms have a licence to carry out exploratory work in Yorkshire and one of them, Ineos, holds licences for areas on the edge of the Moors.
Moors bosses recently met with Ineos, which is weighing up when to start exploratory work in Yorkshire, and made clear they would not welcome attempts to seek permission to reach shale rock beneath the park from well sites outside its boundaries.
According to Moors planning chief Chris France, the park authority takes the same view to lateral fracking as it does to the practice directly from the surface of the park.
He said the park will pursue all means possible within its policies to resist applications for exploratory drilling and lateral fracking.
“The national park is the last place they should be looking to frack, not the first.”Chris France, director of planning at the North York Moors National Park Authority.
Mr France told The Yorkshire Post: “Our concern is that Ineos have got a handful of exploration licences for areas in and on the edge of the national park. What they have said at this stage is once they know the geology of these places, if that exploration provides positive results for them, their intention then would be to access those reserves from under the National Park, drilling laterally from outside.
“But it’s industrial development which will have a significant environmental impact in a sensitive landscape including the visual of the drilling rigs associated with it, and we are not just talking about one, but potentially several on the edge of the Moors. People have spoken about a ring of steel around the park’s boundary.”
Any proliferation of drilling rigs on the edge of the park would damage the visual splendour of the park, he said, and that visual impact, as well as the likely public concern it could trigger could be detrimental to the £650m tourism industry of the Moors and its surrounding areas, and to the park authority’s strategy to attract more people to visit and enjoy its famous scenery.
Mr France said: “People come here to enjoy our landscapes and one of the strategic priorities of the authority is to raise the park’s profile nationally and internationally as a place that is wonderful for people to come to, for their health and wellbeing, and which is also good for the economy. We see industrial development as incompatible with that.”
He said any fracking on the edge of the park would risk repeating the type of public unrest witnessed at Third Energy’s fracking site at Kirby Misperton.
“This has resulted in considerable policing resources and there are clearly wider public interest issues here,” Mr France said. “Why bring that controversy to a really sensitive place which will obviously result in a protracted battle, costing time, money and tying up public resources when shale gas exists in far less protected parts of the country.
“We just don’t want that in the middle of a beautiful place that we want to attract people to. This will not be in the interests of the shale gas industry which, if it is to have a future in this country needs to convince people that this is safe and will not threaten cherished landscapes and well-established rural tourism.
“In my view, taking on a controversial site is not the way to achieve this and we will be doing everything we can to dissuade them from coming and we will do everything we can in planning policy to safeguard our national asset.
“Fracking underneath the park from outside brings with it the same environmental concerns that people are worried about - potential pollution to ground water, air quality and induced seismic activity, which is what closed the industry down for a year after this happened in Lancashire.
“These techniques are untried and untested and the Government rightly has stated that a precautionary approach must be taken. To start fracking shale gas under a national park and one that has very important ground water aquifers that serve local water supplies, to me is not adopting a “precautionary approach” and the industry needs to listen to the Government on this.”
“The national park is the last place they should be looking to frack, not the first.
The planning director believes any environmental impact to the national park caused by fracking would be illogical.
“The North York Moors is a very beautiful place and was recently voted the favourite national park. If national parks aren’t about protecting these precious landscapes for people, what are they for? Shale gas is one industrial development too far.”
A LANDSCAPE WORTH PROTECTING
It is the special environments of national parks that attract visitors from far and wide, and it is such nationally important landscapes and the associated economic benefit of tourism that are just two of the reasons why Chris France believes the Moors must be protected from the impacts of fracking.
A European Special Protection Area for merlin and golden plover, the Moors, which covers an area of 554 square miles, is recognised internationally as a haven for ground nesting birds.
It is home to Britain’s most northerly colony of the Duke of Burgundy butterfly, has the southernmost dwarf cornel colony and one of the largest concentrations of ancient and veteran trees in the North.