ANTI-fracking campaigners have been reassured that there is only a “low risk” drilling could be brought to Gloucestershire after the Government opened bidding on land in the county.
Firms were invited to bid for onshore oil and gas licenses on land covering half the country, with the majority of Gloucestershire advertised for exploration.
Concerns have been raised by environmentalists over the plans to introduce the controversial process which involves blasting water, chemicals and sand in to shale rock formations to release gas and oil held inside.
Campaigners had been hoping to see an outright ban on drilling in National Parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONB), however the Government confirmed today that it would only be allowed in “exceptional circumstances”.
Yet, Cotswolds AONB, the body responsible for protecting the largest area of its kind in the country, said the Government announcement would not lead to a bidding war for land in the county.
A spokesman for the organisation said: “From information available at present the board considers that the Cotswolds AONB and its setting can be seen as at low risk from exploration and exploitation of unconventional gas. “However, this is a topic for which new evidence and guidance is forthcoming and will need to be kept under review.”
Neil Carmichael, MP for Stroud, which falls in to the area protected by the AONB, agreed the county was an unlikely destination for fracking.
“I don’t believe fracking is going to happen for a number of reasons,” he said. “I am not convinced there is a real economic advantage for it to be a new player in our energy mix.”
Dr John Henry Looney from Maisemore-based environmental consultancy Sustainable Direction said the majority of interest will be in the North West of England.
He said: “Shales in the South East of the country were low in reserves and coupled with the high population density this makes the area unattractive to developers.
“We can see this extending to the Cotswolds because of the underlying geology and impacts on the relatively higher population density here making development in the South West unlikely at this time.”
Concerns over fracking include ground and surface water contamination.
But Charlie Watson, county chairman for the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) said the group is not outright opposed to process.
“The Government seems to be saying some goods about wanting to protect the countryside,” he said. “CPRE is not opposed to fracking, it should be looked at cautiously and carefully.”