A REGULATORY body will oversee fracking safety on the Fylde coast – but the long-standing ban remains in place.
Chancellor George Osborne (inset) yesterday announced there will be tax breaks for shale gas firms and a new office set up to regulate the controversial process.
However, the Chancellor stopped short of using his autumn statement to give the green light for fracking – the process of pumping water underground at high pressure to fracture rock and release gas – to resume.
But he said he did not want “British families and businesses to be left behind as gas prices tumble on the other side of the Atlantic”.
His comments are seen as the clearest indicator yet the ban on Cuadrilla Resources’ fracking on the Fylde coast – imposed after earthquakes hit the area last year – is set to be lifted imminently.
The new measures have been largely welcomed, but Mr Osborne’s positive statement has prompted campaign group Residents Action of Fylde Fracking (RAFF) to reveal it is contemplating legal action in a bid to prevent fracking from resuming.
Cuadrilla Resources – which has sites in Weeton, Westby and Singleton – is now awaiting an announcement from the Department of Energy and Climate Change to say it can resume fracking, and chief executive Francis Egan said: “We welcome the Government’s initiative to help the emerging shale gas industry get established and any initiative that streamlines decision-making processes while ensuring that all shale gas extraction conforms to the highest environmental and health and safety standards.”
Despite the continuing objections from local campaigners, Fylde MP Mark Menzies has also welcomed the news a regulatory body will be established.
He said: “The body, I hope, will now work with the existing regulators, the industry and, most importantly, local residents to ensure that, if further fracking does go ahead, it will be done safely, securely and with the upmost sensitivity to the environment.”
The new Office for Unconventional Gas and Oil will be established by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), who said it will “join up responsibilities across Government and provide a single point of contact for investors and streamline the regulatory process.”
Mike Hill, who advised Fylde Council’s shale gas group and has spent months calling for tighter, independent regulation, said he would “wait and see” what the new body involved.
He believes the new office is modelled on his suggestion of an Office of Regulation and Implementation in Shale Gas (ORIS), and said: “If they implement my ORIS document properly I will be very pleased, but we need to wait and see exactly what authority this new body has, what budget it has, how many inspectors and what its remit is.”
DECC is expected to make an announcement “shortly” on the future of fracking, and if it gets the go-ahead Cuadrilla Resources has said it will take a few months for them to have everything in place to resume.
But campaigners have reacted angrily to the chancellor’s positive attitude on shale gas.
And Tina Rothery, from Residents Action on Fylde Fracking (RAFF), said the group is so fed-up with a lack of answers it is considering taking its battle to halt fracking to court.
RAFF has begun discussions about legal action, although it is not yet clear who that will be against or what form it will take.
She said: “RAFF will now take legal action and has initiated discussion with David Wolfe QC.
“Together with the increasing number of anti-fracking groups springing up throughout the UK, we will be employing delaying tactics, which will add to the already damaged confidence of investors in shale gas companies.
“We are looking to take legal action against the permission granted to the shale gas industry without proper consultation with the community and no assurance of safeguards.
“I believe the action could be against the Government but we have approached two barristers and they will advise us.”
n Budget Statement reaction – Page 60