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Suffolk: Six groups joining forces in call for more regulation on fracking

PUBLISHED: 10:43 13 March 2014 | UPDATED: 10:43 13 March 2014

Campaigners from Greenpeace hold a demonstration outside County Hall in Norfolk

Campaigners from Greenpeace hold a demonstration outside County Hall in Norfolk

Archant Norfolk

Six of Britain’s leading wildlife and countryside groups have united in an uncompromising call for tough regulations on fracking – with a large swathe of Essex and part of west Suffolk said to be “under consideration” for the highly controversial method of shale gas extraction.

The groups say poorly-regulated fracking in the Government’s so-called “dash for gas” would risk harming threatened wildlife in the East of England, could cause pollution in the region’s waterways and would “not be compatible” with greenhouse gas emissions targets.

Zones in Suffolk and Essex are said by the groups to have been classified as having potential for exploitation.

“In the East, fracking licences are currently under consultation with the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) for areas such as the wildlife-rich north Norfolk coast and coastal areas that form The Wash, a haven for wading birds and designated as a Special Protection Area,” they say.

“Other places under consideration in East Anglia include a large area across the Suffolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire borders, and land surrounding the Thames Estuary.”

The zones appear on a DECC map showing areas under consideration in the current round of onshore oil and gas licensing – but the department stressed there would not “necessarily be any oil or gas activity in any particular part” of the areas identified.

The zones cover a large area of north-west Essex, including the Saffron Walden and Thaxted area. In west Suffolk, the zone covers an area around Haverhill and stretches eastwards towards Long Melford.

The groups – the National Trust, the RSPB, the Wildlife Trusts, the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, the Angling Trust and the Salmon and Trout Association – launched their report, Are We Fit to Frack?, yesterday.

Among their action demands are calls for all protected wildlife areas, nature reserves and national parks to be frack-free zones, for full environmental assessments to be carried out for each drilling proposal, and for the shale gas industry to pay for its regulation and any pollution clean-ups.

RSPB conservation director Martin Harper said: “The Prime Minister has been a great advocate for the shale gas industry. He has said we have the strongest environmental controls in this country and nothing will go ahead if there are environmental dangers.

“Our report puts a spotlight on these risks and reinforces the growing concern about the impact fracking could have on our countryside and wildlife.

“We argue that more needs to be done to ensure fracking rules are fit for purpose.”

A DECC spokeswoman said: “For any sort on onshore drilling - conventional or unconventional, like fracking – the country is divided into blocks that could be ‘under consideration’.

The blue areas (on the DECC map above) show the areas under consideration for new licences as part of the 14th round (of the licensing process).

This does not mean, however, that there will necessarily be any oil or gas activity in any particular part of that area. The licences themselves did not give consent for drilling or any other operations.

“Companies would also need permission from the landowner(s) and planning consent.

“There would also need to be Environment Agency permits, Health and Safety Executive notification and “finally a consent from us at the DECC.”

A Suffolk County Council spokesman said the authority had not been involved in any talks or received any enquiries on fracking and “no area is currently being investigated.”

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