Attempts to explore for shale oil in a West Sussex village have been opposed by former Tory minister – The Daily Telegraph reported today. Nick Herbert MP urged councillors to throw out Celtique Energie’s bid to drill near Wisborough Green on Tuesday, warning: “Rural West Sussex cannot become a carelessly industrialised landscape.” The MP said he was not opposed to fracking in principle but that the site was the wrong location.
“I can see it is in the national interest to investigate an alternative source of energy but protecting landscapes such as the South Downs is also in the national interest,” he said.
“Wisborough Green is a very picturesque, tranquil village and this proposal would involve the lorries going right through the middle of the village green on tiny roads. It’s a very inappropriate location for this kind of activity.”
Celtique Energie – British-based oil and gas exploration company – has applied for a planning permission to drill through shale rocks, “to confirm what potential (if any) these rocks have for commercial production”. If successful the company will apply to drill and frack shale deposits in the area.
Despite the north-west of the UK being identified as having the largest deposits of shale gas, traditional Tory heartlands of Hampshire, Sussex and Surrey, are also estimated to hold 4.4 billion barrels of shale oil. This may pose a problem for the Government, who is committed to ‘going all out on shale’, as the support for fracking fell below fifty per cent earlier this year.
Last year, Conservative Lord Howell, who was energy secretary from 1979 to 1981, had to apologise for his comment that there’s plenty of room for fracking in the ‘desolate areas in the North East’. Despite the outcry, the fact is that many northern areas targeted by shale exploration companies are traditionally Labour constituencies. These voters are not likely to vote Conservative irrespective of their stance on fracking. Fracking in the Weald Basin, which stretches from Wiltshire to Kent, is far more sensitive.
The inhabitants of Wisborough Green are united against fracking and Mr Herbert, the MP for Arundel and South Downs, fully supports their cause. For now, council planning officials have recommended that Celtique’s application be denied, accusing the company of providing an “unrealistic and inaccurate” assessment, including overstating the level of traffic already passing through the village. Celtique has now attempted to get the vote delayed so it can offer more information.
A group of locals owning land around the drilling site, have attempted to thwart Celtique’s plans by by forming a “legal blockade” using trespass law to deny the company rights to drill out horizontally beneath their property, which would be required in the event of fracking.
These attempts might prove futile as ministers are deliberating a change to trespassing law that would allow companies to drill horizontally under private land without permission.
Mr Herbert, however, was “sceptical” of the proposed law change. “It’s provocative and has been misunderstood by local people as allowing trespass on their land,” he said.
He also disputed suggestions that shale exploration would help lower energy bills. “It’s not clear that it will lower prices, it may help to stabilise them. But I think it was overstated to suggest – as some did – that it would result in a massive reduction in gas prices as it has done in the United States.”
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