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EMF Studies

16 May 2016

Frackers Poised to Start Drilling on the Yorkshire Moors

A view of the North York Moors National Park, into which fracking
licences granted to six companies extend.  Photo:  Alamy
In the timeless Yorkshire moors of my childhood, the frackers are poised to start drilling
by Madeleine Bunting, The Guardian, 15 May 2016

Villages in Ryedale, North Yorkshire, hope a landmark ruling this week will save them from the disruption of the shale revolution

Kirby Misperton, like many other villages in North Yorkshire, has enjoyed its obscurity for centuries. At this time of year, it has all the characteristic features of rural Ryedale: the medieval church that stands among the last of the cherry tree blossom, the poignant war memorial cross that stands at the tiny roundabout, the cottages with their neat front gardens blazing with scarlet and yellow tulips. This is the kind of community I grew up in, only a few miles away.

But this village of a few hundred residents unexpectedly finds itself in the national spotlight – the subject of a decision that could be a critical juncture in how a new and deeply controversial energy technology is shoehorned into the intricate and richly layered English countryside.

This is a story that has particular poignancy for me. The place where I was born, Norton, is just a few miles from Kirby Misperton. The moors, valleys and farmland of my childhood inspired me to write a book tracing thousands of years of human history on one acre in the North York Moors National Park. It explored the enormous place of the English rural landscape in national identity, and how it inspires affection, commitment and belonging. Through many centuries, change in Ryedale has been slow; I never imagined that, within a few years of my research, the character of that landscape could be facing perhaps one of its greatest challenges.

On Friday, North Yorkshire county councillors will hear from some of the thousands who have objected to the planning application to frack a well, known as KM8, less than half a mile from Kirby Misperton. After the council’s planning department recommended approval late last week, they are expected to reach a decision within a few days and thus make way for the first test fracking since 2011. If successful, the site will be the first in the country to go into production. Outside the Northallerton council offices will be the noisy presence of hundreds of residents from Ryedale villages, who are promising the kind of genteel protest favoured in this rural area – music, bunting and cake. Vivienne Westwood has promised to join the party.

What’s at stake here is whether an industry developed in relatively lightly populated areas of the rural US, Canada and Australia can be accommodated in England without being too obtrusive. On that central point, there is no consensus. Third Energy, the company proposing to frack, insists it can pioneer a significantly different approach that bears little relation to that developed elsewhere; thousands of local residents are sceptical.

Inevitably, there are concerns about the more dramatic allegations of seismic activity and contaminated water, but those opposed to the application have pored over the detail of the application.

For Kirby Misperton, for example, fracking will mean dozens of heavy goods vehicles trundling daily down the narrow village lane from 7am to 7pm, round the tiny roundabout and over the Grade II-listed stone bridge. Nothing changes the character of village life so swiftly as traffic; it chokes its lifeblood. The road is no longer safe or pleasant for people to use for walking, and those chance encounters that create community.

Fracking has provoked fierce protests in other parts of the country, such as Lancashire – where fracking was halted at Preese Hall in 2011 after being linked to seismic activity – and at Balcombe in West Sussex.

Fracking entails blasting huge quantities of water, chemicals and silica sand down to 10,000 feet to fracture underlying rocks to release gas. The gas-bearing rock formation in question – the Bowland shale – lies under swaths of rural England including Yorkshire, Lancashire, Cheshire and Leicestershire.

The Kirby Misperton site was drilled in 2011 on an existing conventional gas well pad and is already linked by pipeline to a nearby power station, and Third Energy’s application includes a production permit. If the test is successful, Third Energy plans to go immediately into production.

From the road, KM8 is screened with trees but a short walk across the field of ripening yellow rape brings you up against a nine-foot-high security fence and, beyond it, a tangle of steel pipes and tanks. Beside them, a cleared area of gravel stands poised for the 44 shipping containers intended as sound insulation for the drills and 125-ft rigs that Third Energy proposes to install if the application is approved.

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