As one of Britain's leading independent gas companies applies to frack in North Yorkshire, concerns have also been raised about what campaigners claim are flawed proposals to drill for gas in the nearby North York Moors National Park.
Gas firm Third Energy last week drew intense criticism from local campaigners as well as the local Conservative MP after announcing plans to hydraulically fracture – or "frack" – an existing well at Kirby Misperton in North Yorkshire.
Rasik Valand, Third Energy's chief executive, believes there could be what he called "a significant new gas reservoir" in the region. His company is offering the local community £100,000 if it is permitted to frack the well, plus a percentage of royalties if commercial fracking goes ahead.
The company's plans drew criticism from local MP Anne McIntosh, chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, who said she was given assurances last year that Third Energy "neither had the technology nor any intention of hydraulically fracking at depth anywhere in Ryedale".
Ms McIntosh has called for a full environmental impact assessment to be undertaken in Ryedale and its findings made public. Anti-fracking campaigners are also demanding full environmental disclosure, especially after they said they had found flaws in Third Energy's plans to drill for conventional gas near by.
Third Energy is also seeking approval to drill elsewhere in the Vale of Pickering for gas, this time inside the North York Moors National Park. The company maintains that this will be by conventional means but campaigners see it as fracking.
In a report by hydrogeologist Hannah Fraser, commissioned by campaigners, the energy company is described as wanting to drill in a limestone area that supplies drinking water. It plans to drill through the limestone and re-inject up to 3,500 barrels per day of highly saline and radioactive water into the sandstone below. Third Energy argues that there is a "very low" risk of pollution from the sandstone to the limestone. But Ms Fraser's report says the environmental setting is "highly sensitive" and that drilling could provide a transmission route between the two.
It goes on to warn of the risks to the drinking aquifer from the borehole: "The nature of the proposed activity carries with it a risk of [a] catastrophic pollution event such as a blow-out or explosion, or more low-level chronic release to the environment. These chronic risks will be present in perpetuity."
The report adds: "It is imperative the applicant and regulators have a full understanding of the role of the local fault system prior to the application decision being made."
Ms Fraser also warns of a risk of surface pollution, warning that "the environmental information provided … is not sufficient to be confident the development will not cause unacceptable levels of water pollution or land instability".
Ms Fraser's report has forced the local council to delay the planning process while it seeks further technical advice, but campaigners are worried because the new research will be paid for by Third Energy.
Russell Scott from Frack Free North Yorkshire said: "We are deeply concerned [that] Third Energy [might be] allowed to influence the planning process, especially when you consider the potentially devastating consequences if they get it wrong."
A Third Energy spokesperson said: "Third Energy has been consistent in its position that it will not hydraulically fracture within the North York Moors National Park and Kirby Misperton is not within the national park. We have submitted a planning application for Ebberston Moor South, a conventional gas deposit. Our plans are both sensitive to the local environment and provide the highest possible levels of safety."
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