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Fracking a step closer as exploration gets go-ahead

FRACKING near Frome has moved a step closer following the Government’s decision to allow a search for gas in the area. It’s a move that opponents say could pave the way for a ‘toxic’ industry locally, and does not show a serious commitment to reducing greenhouse gases.

South Western Energy Ltd has been given permission to explore for fossil fuels in the Frome area and has registered its firm commitment to drilling in search of coal bed methane. The news could open the door to fracking in the area around Beckington, Berkley, Oldford, Rode and Chapmanslade.

The licences, granted by the Oil and Gas Authority, allow South Western Energy  to search for fuel within four 100 km sq. ‘blocks’; the blocks cover the areas around Berkley, Chapmanslade, Dilton Marsh, Beckington, Rode, the Longleat estate, Corsley and Rudge, as well as  the areas around Westbury and Warminster.

The announcement came just one day after MPs voted in favour of relaxing restrictions on underground drilling in protected areas, which would have limited where work could take place. Frome MP David Warburton did not vote on the legislation.

Annabelle Macfadyen, member of campaign group Frack Free Somerset said, “Despite all the evidence submitted to show the deleterious impact that drilling would have on wildlife in these areas, with these decisions and its recent cuts to renewables, the government has made it amply clear that it is committed to putting its vested interests in the fracking industry ahead of any serious attempt to create a sustainable future for our children.

“Frack Free Somerset is concerned about the air pollution, water contamination, toxic & radioactive waste, health effects and industrialized landscapes that affect the communities in which unconventional gas and oil companies have already been working.

“There is peer-reviewed scientific evidence continually emerging from the U.S. and Australia as proof of the dangers inherent in this industry.

“The four new licences, east of Frome, which cross over into the Wiltshire border, affect 11 groundwater source protection zones which we believe should remain free of oil or gas exploitation.

“Members of Frack Free Somerset will resist any attempts by the government and unconventional gas and oil companies to impose this toxic industry on our communities, and will be working in close collaboration with anti-fracking groups across the country, including local groups such as Keep Wiltshire Frack Free.

“If you would like to find out more about our campaign, or lend us your support, please sign up to receive our occasional email at”

The company’s Petroleum and Exploration Development Licences  (PEDLs)  were awarded as part of the Oil and Gas Authority’s 14th Onshore Oil and Gas Licensing Round, which was announced before Christmas and could lead to fracking (hydraulic fracturing) operations starting up across the country. The Wales-based South Western Energy was offered nine of the 93 licences across the country.

The licences give the company the legal right to explore for oil and gas, but further permission must be given by local or central government before drilling or production can take place.

The House of Commons held a vote without debate earlier this month, when they voted 298 to 261 in favour of relaxing laws on fracking underneath previously protected areas such as national parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Surface developments will still be restricted within these areas, but companies could be permitted to drill horizontally  beneath protected land from outside the area.

Wiltshire Council, which has jurisdiction over most of the land in the four licence blocks,  said earlier this year that it would be unlikely to permit drilling in the county and that it did not believe there to be any fuel worth looking for in Wiltshire. However, the council does not have absolute power, and the Government can step in if decisions are not made quickly enough.

Hydraulic fracturing, known colloquially as fracking, is a fuel extraction method that involves pumping fluid into the ground to shatter earth containing oil or gas in order for the fuel to be extracted. The process is widespread in the USA but attracts a lot of criticism over possible water pollution.

For more information about the recent licensing round go to Frome could be affected by blocks ST84, ST85, ST94 and ST95.