Gas drilling in Shropshire takes a step closer

Gas drilling in the Shropshire countryside is a step closer after experts said a major hurdle to the plans may be waived.

Gas drilling in Shropshire takes a step closer

A planning application for exploratory drilling at Brooklands Farm in Dudleston, near Ellesmere, may be submitted by the end of May, if the need for an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is waived, the firm behind the proposal has said.

Environment Agency officials have said the pre-application assessment should not be necessary, though final say will lie with members of a Shropshire Council planning committee which will meet on April 23.

The proposals for methane drilling in the area were revealed earlier this month by multinational company Dart Energy, sparking fears from protestors it may pave the way for controversial shale gas "fracking" to take place in the county in future years.

The firm denies it has plans for fracking, but does hope to drill for coal-bed methane gas - though only if no environmental problems are thrown up by an assessment.

The distinctive landscape in north Shropshire featuring meres peat bogs was formed by glaciers melting following the end of the Ice Age.

In a letter to Shropshire Council, Mark Davies, planning specialist with the Environment Agency, says: "Based on the details submitted . . . we do not consider that the proposals are likely to result in 'significant' effects on the environment.

"Therefore we would suggest that an EIA would not be necessary in this instance."

But, he adds: "If an EIA is deemed necessary by your authority, we would expect to be formally consulted as a statutory consultee."

He says the agency would still expect assessments as part of the planning process, of things like the impact on groundwater, and the effect of drilling, construction, operation and decommissioning at the borehole.

A spokesman for Dart Energy said if Shropshire Council went along with the Environment Agency's recommendation, a full planning application would "follow pretty swiftly", probably within a month of the decision.

But, he said, the application would only be a renewal of permission to drill that the firm already had, that had lapsed.

Campaigners have claimed the Shropshire/North Wales border is being targeted by the firm, which has made a number of applications to set up methane drilling sites in the area.

Members of Free Frack Dee say the proposals would be the first step towards controversial shale gas fracking being introduced in Shropshire and have not ruled out carrying out peaceful protests at proposed drill sites.

Shale gas extraction or "fracking" involves injecting water and chemicals into the ground to fracture rocks to release gas, and has been dogged by claims from opponents that the process can pollute the water table and even trigger earthquakes.

But Douglas Bain, speaking for Dart Energy previously, denied there are any plans for fracking in Shropshire. He said the exploratory drilling would be for coal-bed methane gas only, and said the company was only interested in "science not scaremongering".

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