Beauty spots at risk in Wakefield district, say anti-fracking campaigners

New licences have been handed out to fracking companies to explore for shale gas across the district.

Sunday, 17th January 2016, 7:00 am
POSSIBLE PICTURE POST - The autumnal sun shines low over the dam at Newmillerdam Country Park & Boathouse near Wakefield. Covering 237 acres of woodland and water by the picturesque village of Newmillerdam, the Park was once part of an area known by the Norse name of Thurstonhaugh. The name changed when it was part of the medieval 'Chevet' estate after a new corn mill was built in the village in 1285 and the area became known as New Myllne on Dam. The original mill was probably situated upstream near to the site of the Boathouse and was rebuilt several times during the period before 1633 when it was moved to its present location by Francis Nevile of Chevet Hall. Where once the park was managed for game and commercial forestry (the pine and larch trees having been planted for pit props), it is now managed by the Countryside Service for the benefit of wildlife and visitors. The dam began life as a small section of the Owler Beck which was dammed to turn the cornmill's water wheel. Today the lake is fed by Ble

Petroleum Exploration and Development Licences have been issued by the government to fracking firms, which mean they could in future drill to look for shale gas in parts of Wakefield, Pontefract, Castleford and the south east.

Anti-fracking campaigners say it is “the biggest threat the district has ever faced”, with the possibility of drilling at beauty spots and nature reserves like Pugneys Country Park, Newmillerdam and Anglers Country Park.

The licences give companies the right to explore for oil and gas, but they would need to seek planning permission and pass a series of safety and regulatory checks before drilling.

Sign up to our daily Wakefield Express Today newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Yvonne Siddal, co-ordinator at Frack Free Wakefield, said: “Licences being awarded means fracking is coming and we have to take action.

“The countryside around Wakefield is really pretty, it’s lovely. Do we want that ruined? My concern is also the health risk because it can contaminate water and food supplies.

“We will be campaigning heavily over the next few months - this is the biggest fight of my life and the greatest threat this district has ever faced.”

The licences, handed out to successful applicants in the Oil and Gas Authority’s latest round of licensing on December 17, grant exclusivity for drilling company IGas Energy PLC to explore two separate areas - also known as blocks - in the district.

One block in Wakefield covers Walton, Wintersett, Notton, Woolley, Newmillerdam, Chapelthorpe, Crigglestone, Sandal and Crofton and another block in the south east covers Hemsworth, Kinsley, Fitzwilliam, Ackworth, Thorpe Audlin, North Elmsall, South Elmsall, Upton and East Hardwick.

Hemsworth MP Jon Trickett said: “I am very sceptical about fracking. Constituents have already contacted me about the potential impact fracking could have on the environment and on watercourses.

“I shall be contacting local parish and town councils with the aim of starting a campaign to carefully scrutinise every line in these applications.”

Hutton Energy PLC has also been awarded two exploration licences including one block in Wakefield covering Normanton, Altofts, Stanley, Outwood, Lofthouse, East Ardsley, Robin Hood, Woodlesford, Methley and Rothwell.

It was also handed a licence for another block covering Castleford, New Fryston, Ferrybridge, Featherstone, Ackton, Allerton Bywater, Pontefract and parts of Knottingley.

Wakefield MP Mary Creagh said: “Fracking has the potential to create over 64,000 skilled jobs in Britain and to give us a secure gas supply. However the planning process for fracking needs robust regulation to ensure that our beautiful local landscape is protected.”

Wakefield Council said it had not received any applications for fracking or test drilling at this stage.

Council leader Coun Peter Box said: “I have stated before that, personally, I am against fracking and I know, from when I started the debate about this in my Express column last year, that I share the view of many other people in the district.

“So far, we have received no applications for test drilling or fracking, however, if we do, the applicant must seek formal planning approval from the council.

“As part of this process the committee will scrutinise the environmental impact of any application and people would get the chance to comment.

“I can assure you that, if we ever reach this stage, you can make your voices heard and we will listen.”

Licences for a total of 159 blocks were handed out to fracking companies across the UK during the gas and oil regulator’s latest licensing round.

Chairman of Friends of Newmillerdam, Jeff Stimpson, said: “I can see no justification for fracking in any area like Newmillerdam.

“The area is absolutely beautiful and it would destroy it, we completely oppose fracking and we will use all the means we have available to campaign against it here.”

A spokeswoman for IGas said the company has no immediate plans to start work until its licence is formally issued in spring.

She said the company would work with communities to minimise environmental impacts.

Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford MP Yvette Cooper said: “Round here we’ve a long history of energy generation and real expertise as part of our coal mining history. But that’s why we urgently need far more information - because there are real concerns about the environmental consequences, and I am very concerned that proper safeguards aren’t in place.”