A quarter of Wigan available for frack testing

A fracking rig
A fracking rig

ALMOST a quarter of Wigan borough could be subjected to frack testing in the years to come, we can exclusively reveal today.

Almost a fifth of the Wigan constituency’s landmass and a small portion in Makerfield are up for grabs for exploratory drilling, while in Leigh it is well over half.

The figures are to be found in a Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) Parliamentary briefing document in the possession of the Wigan Evening Post.

However, council planners confirmed today that they have still to receive a single licence application for test drilling for potential shale gas reserves anywhere in the borough.

That hasn’t prevented a storm of protest in some quarters and a Wigan town centre demonstration.

The areas identified for possibly drilling are chosen because of their potential to cause the minimum amount of disruption to nearby homes, industry or environment rather than for any geological reasons.

But a council spokesman said: “There is no pre-application discussion taking place nor are we aware of any interest.”

The report concludes that while the rapid development of shale gas in North America has transformed the world gas-market outlook, consensus was that shale gas will not be a game-changer here in the UK.

This was because there was less land available to drill on and here, unlike the USA, landowners do not own the rights to hydrocarbons beneath their land.

The Government is now consulting on legislation to introduce tax incentives for shale gas exploration along with the pledge of large financial benefits for those communities bordering fracking well sites.

The report reveals that onshore Petroleum Exploration and Development block licences have now been granted to operator Bowland for 18 per cent of the Wigan constituency landmass.

And operators Alkane, DART and IGAS have been given permission to explore potentially almost 60 per cent of the Leigh constituency area.

Alkane and IGAS can search just one per cent - to date - of the Makerfield constituency.

In Bolton West, which includes land in the east of the borough, 2.1 per cent of the land is licensed for possible shale exploration.

However, EVERY fracking gas reserve test bore will still need separate planning permission from the council itself before any such work can commence.

The report reveals that a SINGLE test well - in 2011 prices - costs in the region of an eye-watering £10.5m.

All drilling operations are also subject to approval form the Health and Safety Executive and the Environment Agency.

None of the licences granted by the DECC distinguish between shale gas or oil.

Wigan MP Lisa Nandy said that the prospect of fracking had understandably caused concern for many people across Wigan.

She said: “It’s essential that fracking is regulated, licensed and monitored, conducted safely and without damage to the environment.

“We know from previous operations in the USA that under-regulation is not an option.

“I would expect any company licensed to operate in the Wigan area to consult with local people and provide evidence that their operations are both safe and environmentally friendly before commencing any activity.

“We are heavily reliant on imported gas in the UK and we do need to explore new options to safeguard our energy security - but shale gas is not the magic bullet the Coalition claims.”

Makerfield MP Fovargue said that she knew there was “real concern” about the potential environmental dangers of fracking and believes that the process should only go ahead if it is proved to be scientifically “safe and environmentally sound.”

She said: “It is only by fully addressing legitimate environmental and safety concerns about fracking through robust regulation and comprehensive monitoring, that people will have confidence that the extraction of shale gas is a safe and reliable source that can contribute to the UK’s energy mix.

“Shale gas does potentially offer an opportunity for the UK to improve our security of energy supply, to replace depleted North Sea gas reserves and to displace some of the gas we currently import.

“However, the Government also need to get their priorities right and it is unlikely that it will be possible to extract shale gas in large volumes in the immediate future and I remain unconvinced that it will make a significant difference to energy bills.”