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30 Sep, 2014 16:47

Fracking license demand growing, says UK minister amid public opposition

Fracking license demand growing, says UK minister amid public opposition

Shale gas licenses are attracting solid interest from investors, according to UK business and energy minister Matt Hancock. Communities are resisting government plans to allow fracking firms to drill under homes without their permission.

Hancock said that interest in Britain’s first round of shale gas licensing in six years would allow the UK to exploit fracking to secure its future energy supply.

“I feel like it's the duty of any government to ensure that this potential is explored,” Hancock told Reuters on the sidelines of his Conservative Party’s annual conference in Birmingham. “Fracking has the potential to be very important for the security of our energy supplies.”

“We've been a huge beneficiary of having domestic energy supplies under the North Sea for 30 years and we need to make sure that continues,” he added.

The government is due to vote in November on whether to allow fracking firms to drill under properties without the permission of land and home owners. Ministers wish to imitate progress made in the US in developing shale gas resources.

“I'm confident that it will be successful,” said Hancock. “There’s clearly more and more big companies coming into this space with the resources they bring with them, and I warmly welcome that.”

The British Geological Survey estimates there is a potential 1,300 trillion cubic feet of shale gas in the North of England, 10 percent of which is exploitable.

Local communities have mounted a number of protests against test drilling in their areas and decried the practice of fracking.

RT’s Egor Piskunov met with residents resisting shale gas exploration in one northern English county.

Dianne Westgarth told RT that plans to drill near her home have wiped hundreds of thousands of pounds off the value of her property.

“It's bad enough that the property is worth nothing, and indeed the properties around here, but the health and the environmental risks are even more serious,” said Dianne. “And this is why, if they start, we’ll have leave. We’ll have to walk off and walk away with nothing.”

Echoing concerns over the health ramifications of fracking, young mother Emma Burt told Piskunov that she worries for her son’s health.

“Max is nine months old, so obviously for his health and what have you while he’s growing up, it’s obviously a big concern. We’re just a field away from where the actual site is,” said Emma.

Meanwhile, residents have rallied against the knock-on effects that fracking could have on local agriculture – which could contaminate the food supply.

“Grazing animals, dairy herds, they would be feeding on grass that would be contaminated,” warned activist John Tootill, speaking to RT. “That would inevitably get into the milk produced, into the meat from other farm animals, crops, cereals, vegetables. Everything would be affected.”

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) said it will press ahead with proposals to simplify underground access for oil and gas developers, despite the objection of 99 percent of respondents to a consultation.

The UK-wide plan would give companies the right to drill at depths of 300 meters or more under private land without negotiating a right of access.

Ministers argued that the current ability for people to block shale gas development under their property would lead to significant delays, and that the legal process by which companies can force fracking plans through is costly, time-consuming, and disproportionate.

Helen Rimmer, a campaigner with Friends of the Earth, called the consultation “a sham,” and said that voters would punish ministers at the ballot box next May if their calls are ignored.

“It is political madness to play with this change,” Rimmer told RT. “It shows that the government is more concerned about the one percent of people and the companies that stand to make money out of this industry, rather than the mass of people who are opposed to it.

“I think the government's behavior over issues like these and of the next licensing round – which is going to open up 60 percent of the country to potential fracking – will only increase the public opposition. And we have a general election coming up in May next year, and I think it will be felt at the ballot box,” she added.