Campaigners have been angered by the leader of a key Government body who says there is no reason fracking could not take place in the North York Moors National Park.
Lord Smith of Finsbury, the outgoing chairman of the Environment Agency, believes the visual impact of fracking on the UK’s national parks would be minimal and that the risks to the environment are exaggerated.
He argued that as long as it was properly regulated it would be safe and “very useful” in helping Britain to reduce its reliance on imported gas and coal-fired power stations.
“I wouldn’t rule it out because provided it’s being done properly, the visual impact can be very limited indeed,” he said. “It will depend on any individual location.”
But his views have dismayed campaigners with Frack Free North Yorkshire who say that tourism, agriculture and the health of local people, among other issues, would all be affected and the North York Moors “potentially ruined forever” if mining were to get the go ahead.
Lord Smith’s comments come as the Government is set to launch a new onshore licensing round which will see thousands more square miles made available for shale gas and oil exploration.
The Environment Agency is in charge of issuing environmental permits for fracking.
Speaking in an interview with The Times, the former Labour cabinet minister said he does not agree with the anti-fracking stance.
“The campaigners fall into two camps. One is very much campaigning against the local impact of drilling at particular sites. Provided it’s done carefully and properly regulated, those fears are definitely exaggerated.
“There’s another set of campaigners who say, ‘’this is a better fuel to burn than coal but it’s still a fossil fuel and we ought to be putting everything into renewables and not doing shale gas at all.
“I don’t agree with that analysis because we aren’t yet ready to see 100 per cent of our energy requirements being produced from renewables.
“Over the next 10 to 20 years we are going to have to use fossil fuels still and it’s much better to use gas than coal.”
He also said it would help with energy security because it is domestic supply of fuel rather than having to rely on imports.
But Russell Scott, of Frack Free North Yorkshire, pointed to the impact of fracking in the USA and Australia which he argues has led to “long-term environment environmental damage, water pollution, and air pollution.”
He added: “North York Moors National Park sustains a healthy tourism and agriculture industry which would be seriously jeopardised by the large scale industrialisation of that countryside required to support a fracking industry. Shale gas or unconventional gas wells do not have a long life span which therefore means that hundreds if not thousands of wells will need to be drilled when compared to the six to seven conventional wells currently in Ryedale. This would result in a landscape potentially ruined forever.”
“We must remember that the 1995 environment act was established to ‘Conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage’ of our national parks. Fracking would simply destroy our environment and not conserve the parks that these laws where set up to protect.
“We urge all residents living in Ryedale or within the National park boundary to strongly oppose any fracking activities starting with the seismic surveys currently be conducted by Third Energy in Ryedale.”
A spokesman for the North York Moors National Park said: “To date there hasn’t been any commercial interest in fracking within the North York Moors. In determining any application for fracking or indeed any other minerals exploration/extraction within the national park, we would take particular consideration of the impacts on the Park’s special qualities. Applications would almost certainly be subject to the Major Development Test whereby the presumption is for refusal except in exceptional circumstances and where the development can be demonstrated to be in the public interest.
“The National Park is currently developing policies to assess proposals for gas extraction, including fracking, as part of the Minerals and Waste Joint Plan which is being produced jointly with North Yorkshire County Council and the City of York Council.”
*Frack Free North Yorkshire is to host two meetings to discuss plans by Third Energy to carry out seismic surveys in Ryedale. The meetings will take place at Terrington Village Hall on Wednesday, July 16, 7pm to 9pm, and at Hovingham Village Hall, on Thursday, July 17, 7pm to 9pm. The survey area, say campaigners, will cover the Nunnington, Stonegrave, Brawby, Hovingham, Terrington, Fryton and Slingsby areas.