ANTI-FRACKING activists voiced alarm yesterday as the coalition put a vast chunk of Britain up for grabs to onshore drilling firms.
The Department for Energy and Climate Change’s latest oil and gas licensing round has opened up some 20,000 square kilometres across central and southern Scotland alone — more than a quarter of the country — to companies seeking “unconventional fossil fuel exploitation,” with further sites in the north and south of England.
The controversial technique of shale fracturing or “fracking” cracks open the bedrock with high-pressure blasts of chemical solvent to release underground gas deposits; the related practice of coal-bed methane extraction drains away groundwater to help haul gas to the surface.
Environmental charities said the auctioneering was especially worrying in light of new findings from an expert panel convened by the Scottish government also released yesterday.
Panel chairman Dr Chris Masters said its members had found “no significant technological impediments” to fracking in Scotland — “and furthermore that the technology currently exists to extract such hydrocarbons safely.”
But Friends of the Earth Scotland campaigner Mary Church said the report had nonetheless underscored fears of environmental and health hazards in a powerful and poorly regulated industry.
The panel’s report warned that “inappropriately controlled” fracking sites could see hazardous chemicals leaching into groundwater or spilling from storage tanks and lagoons and man-made droughts as fracking firms tap out local aquifers for use in hydraulic blasting.
I said the increased use of gas carries “a longer-term risk that investment in gas, particularly gas power generation, will replace investment in lower-carbon renewable technologies.”
Campaigners from Greenpeace noted that the licensing area now covered freshwater aquifers and intruded on 10 national parks.
Greenpeace UK energy campaigner Simon Clydesdale said that putting out the new licensing round when MPs were on summer break showed how “politically toxic” the issue had become.
“Just a few months ago ministers were falling over each other to make big announcements about shale gas.
“Now, with MPs in Tory heartlands feeling the heat and all but seven Cabinet ministers threatened by drilling in their constituencies, there could be a high political price to pay for this shale steamroller at next year’s general election,” he said.