Fracking fears around Royston

The area around Royston being put up for licence

The area around Royston being put up for licence - Credit: Archant

ENERGY companies could lock horns over the chance to drill deep into countryside around Royston, fuelling speculation ‘fracking’ may blight communities.

Environmental activists have have expressed concern about the threat posed by fracking, the controversial shale gas drilling technique, which has been blamed for earthquakes, explosions and health problems in areas where it has been carried out.

The Government is set to launch the UK’s 14th onshore licensing round next year, and it seems North Hertfordshire is being viewed as a rich energy source in ministers’ pursuit of lower gas bills for consumers.

A request was made to the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) for an area of land, including Royston, Buntingford, and the surrounding villages, to be added as an option for gas firms to seek obtaining a drilling licence.

It is likely the department was written to by a geologist because an energy company had shown an interest, this paper has been told.

Asked about the specially-created map, sourced from the DECC by the Crow, Royston resident Karen Harmel, of the North Herts Green Party, said: “It doesn’t surprise me at all. At some stage North Herts will be affected and it’s a big worry.

“I am 100 per cent against fracking, it does damage to the countryside, can have an effect on water, and its worrying on every level.”

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She added: “Even with fracking we will only have enough energy to last another 20 or 30 years. The government should be investing more money in renewable energy.”

The last time a licensing round closed was in February 2008 – when the plot, the only area in the east of England, was not listed as a licence possibility.

Since then the American shale gas revolution has turned heads in the UK Government, with test sites like Balcombe, West Sussex, where angry protests made national headlines last week, being looked at in attempts to extract methane gas trapped in layers of shale rock.

In America, energy bills have been cut dramatically using the new technique, which involves fracturing rocks deep underground with water and chemicals to extract oil and natural gas.

The licensing round will see companies first express an interest in using land for oil or gas extraction. If a license is granted, planning permission is still needed for work such as fracking to be carried out.

Oliver Heald, MP for North East Herts, said: “I will be looking into this closely because if something is going to be done then it needs to be done carefully, we need to protect our countryside. But from what I understand the geology of the area means it is not suitable for fracking.”