Sussex landowners mount 'legal blockade' against fracking

activist Environmental activists claim fracking can pollute water supplies

Landowners in the Sussex Downs National Park are mounting a "legal blockade" to block a potential fracking site.

Solicitors for residents near Fernhurst, in West Sussex, have written to Celtique Energie and the Energy Secretary Ed Davey to explicitly deny permission to drill under their land .

It comes after the government said it may alter trespass law to make drilling under property easier for companies.

Protests against fracking took place in Balcombe, also in Sussex, last year.

Fracking is a method of extracting energy, such as shale gas, from rocks by forcing it out under high pressure.

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All this happening in a national park just doesn't bear thinking about”

End Quote Marcus Adams Fernhurst landowner

Shale gas exploration typically involves drilling down vertically and out horizontally, often for more than a mile.

'Exploration well'

Marcus Adams, one of the landowners involved in the legal blockade, said: "People right across the country have legitimate concerns about the impact of fracking on their communities - from water contamination to air and noise pollution from heavy lorry traffic - but all this happening in a national park just doesn't bear thinking about."

Celtique Energie said there were no firm plans for the drilling site as yet: "The horizontal well is only an option at this stage and would be drilled on the basis of positive data from the vertical well."

Chief executive Geoff Davies told the BBC that it had earmarked 250,000 acres for exploration and this was just "one well of many we're planning".

"It's very much an exploration well," he added.

Support

Currently operators need to ask homeowners before they drill under their land, but they have a right to appeal by law if an agreement cannot be reached.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change has said it is reviewing whether this existing route is "fit for purpose" due to concerns that fracking for shale gas could be held back by lengthy and costly court proceedings.

The government has given strong support to fracking, saying it believes the potentially large reserves of shale gas could reduce energy bills, create jobs, boost the economy and encourage businesses to come back to the UK.

It has plans to reward councils and homeowners who allow fracking in their area.

Earthquakes

Last year Prime Minister David Cameron pledged a "simplified system" for companies to get permission for fracking.

Environmental activists' list of concerns about fracking also include that it could increase climate change and cause small earthquakes.

The environmental group, Greenpeace, launched a mass legal block against fracking in October.

The organisation's energy campaigner, Anna Jones, said she thought the Fernhurst action would inspire others: "As ministers' desperate charm offensive is given the cold shoulder, the Fernhurst legal blockade is likely to become a blueprint for local resistance right across the country."

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