Fracking opponents head to court, as UK green fightback emerges

Landowners say drilling amounts to trespass, on day Conservative MPs launch low carbon manifesto

The South Downs National Park is at risk of fracking, which many residents oppose (Source: Flickr/digitalexpress)

The South Downs National Park is at risk of fracking, which many residents oppose (Source: Flickr/digitalexpress)

By Sophie Yeo

UK landowners have launched a legal challenge against shale gas companies planning to drill under their lands.

Lawyers representing residents in the South Downs National Park say the drilling would amount to trespass, as the horizontal equipment would extend beneath their land.

They have also written to energy secretary Ed Davey to explicitly deny their permission, illustrating the difficulties the nascent industry may have in operating in the UK. A recent government survey indicated that two thirds of UK land were to become available for fracking licenses.

Marcus Adams, one of the landowners who has joined the legal block, says that he is concerned about the effect that fracking will have on the landscape, considered one of the most beautiful in the south of England.

“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.”

Shale gas exploration, also known as fracking, involves drilling deep underground and pumping a  chemical compound to release trapped gas or oil. The technique has been linked to small earthquakes, water pollution and the emission of large quantities of methane, a potent climate-warming gas.

Environmental group Greenpeace are coordinating the campaign to block fracking on legal grounds. They say that English common law prevents energy companies from drilling underneath a property without the landowner’s permission. In the UK the ground beneath a house’s foundations is owned by the Crown.

Prime Minister David Cameron is an enthusiastic backer of fracking, saying the country is committed to go “all out for shale,” A UK-Poland alliance also blocked tougher shale gas regulations in the EU’s recent white paper outlining the region’s climate and energy strategy to 2030.

Policy challenge

Separately, an influential group of MPs from Cameron’s Conservative party today published a manifesto explaining how environmentally sound policies could generate £5 billion a year and create 300,000 jobs.

The group, which includes energy and climate minister Greg Barker says the country needs to “extract real value from resources” and regard waste as a precious commodity.

“To date there has been a real lack of vision and ambition and arguably a lack of foresight in identifying the challenges that lie ahead,” they say. “Other strong manufacturing nations, such as Germany, the US, Japan and South Korea, have grasped the nettle and are preparing themselves. It is now time for the UK to pick up the mantle.”

Analysts say the intervention is significant because the MPs are regarded as loyalists to the Prime Minister. Recently newspapers reported Cameron as saying he wanted to get rid of “green crap”, a quote his office says is not accurate.

The report is the latest in a fightback by leading green figures, concerned that the country’s policies are being directed by politicians sceptical about climate science and focused exclusively on economic growth.

Last week Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, labelled climate change deniers the “headless chicken brigade”.

Addressing young environmental entrepreneurs at Buckingham Palace, he said: “It is baffling that in our modern world we have such blind trust in science and technology that we all accept what science tells us about everything – until, that is, it comes to climate science.

“All of a sudden, and with a barrage of sheer intimidation, we are told by powerful groups of deniers that the scientists are wrong and we must abandon all our faith in so much overwhelming scientific evidence.”

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