Members of the Say No to Fracking on Barton Moss campaign believe that energy company IGas, which owns a football-sized pitch of land near to the aerodrome and new Salford City Stadium, may try cash in on a government Act that could become law as early as March to conduct gas exploration and production through a controversial mining process called fracking.
They believe that if the Growth and Infrastructure Bill, which is currently being debated in the House of Lords, is passed, developers such as energy companies would be able to apply directly to the Secretary of State for planning permission under one of the proposal’s clauses – if deemed to be in the `national interest’. This would allow them to circumvent applications to local councils for planning approval.
In 2011, IGas purchased the site and associated planning permission from Nexen Exploration. Salford Council had already permitted it to be used for exploratory drilling and for coal bed methane production two years earlier.
Last month it was revealed that IGas had invested millions of pounds in shale gas exploration at its sites. It plans to drill two wells in the North West in the wake of discoveries of substantial shale beds in the region, one of which could be at Barton Moss.
Fracking, also called shale gas extraction, was given the green light by the UK government last December. It overturned a suspension on the process which was widely believed to be responsible for the 2011 Blackpool earthquakes. Despite ministerial approval, worldwide debates are currently raging on its effect on pollution, health and local economies.
A relatively cheap form of gas extraction, fracking involves drilling deep into shale beds before injecting water, sand and chemicals at high pressures to fracture the shale and release natural gas.
Critics of the process have highlighted fears over water pollution, radioactive contamination in food and respiratory problems for those living near sites – issues the Coalition Government believes could be mitigated if fracking is properly regulated.
Their considerations that the Government’s push towards the process seriously undermines efforts to encourage the growth of more environmentally friendly renewable energy sources, and does not offer clean-cut gains for local communities, remain absent from studies conducted by British scientists.
The number of jobs available for local people is disputed, whilst there are fears that mining in the area could push up the cost of living for residents.
Stephen Hall, a member of Say No to Fracking on Barton Moss, predicts IGas will ride roughshod over local opinion if the area is found to be a potentially profitable shale gas site.
“I think IGas will just say `Fuck the local councils’ if they think mining there is worth their while” he argues “Fracking is a disaster waiting to happen that could badly affect the environment and communities. These big companies want to tell us how fantastically beneficial it could be but to me that’s a load of bollocks. They just want money.
“Instead of this potentially highly dangerous resource why don’t we concentrate on developing jobs in safer and more sustainable renewable energy?” he asks “It could create up to fifty times more jobs for the area, it’s a no-brainer as far as we’re concerned.”
Whilst Salford City Council has since stated that the company does not currently have consent to carry out shale gas extraction under its existing planning permission, some local politicians were very quick to praise the news that shale gas may be coming to the city. This could suggest the likelihood of the Government approving future applications by the company.
Derek Antrobus, Assistant Mayor for Strategic Planning, also did not rule out the possibility that the site would be refused planning permission in the future. He said: “Further planning approval from the Council, the Department for Energy and Climate Change and consultation with the Environment Agency and the Health and Safety Executive would be required to extract gas through hydraulic fracturing.”
The speculative comments have led to a situation of confusion and claims in the city that residents and campaigners are being kept in the dark by both Salford Council and IGas.
The majority of those spoken to by the Salford Star who live near the Barton Moss site still have no idea that a gas company is operating on their doorstep.
Paul, from Rochford Road said: “We didn’t know anything about the site being bought in 2010, despite the Council saying it had consultations with residents. The only thing I’ve noticed is the noise at night and how the road traffic has massively increased, it’s terrible.
“The Council keeps authorising developments around us and says they’ll bring jobs” he added “But we don’t see them; like the ones they promised for the Salford City Stadium and Port Salford. There’s nothing for us.”
Steve, from the same street, said: “We should all be consulted on the site if it’s going to affect us so we know the full picture, especially when all these worries have been raised. I think the Council likes to plough ahead with plans regardless as to whether we’ll actually get the jobs they suggest at the start. You can’t really trust them.
“I think we should be concentrating more on renewables rather than fossil fuels”, he added.
Roger Jones, Councillor for Irlam, stated that he wants to get answers from IGas about their exact plans.
“We want to meet with them in the next few weeks to ask them if they’ve found sufficient quantities of coal bed methane to extract it commercially, have they any evidence of shale gas and if so, what they plan to do” he said “I’d like them to tell the public what is happening to clear up the misunderstanding.”
Say No to Fracking on Barton Moss are organising community meetings and training sessions in Greater Manchester. They believe that effective opposition to future fracking threats will only be possible by galvanising region-wide public support.
More information on the Say No to Fracking on Barton Moss can be found here
Original article can be found here