Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

Council seeks a ban on fracking

Brent council in north London seeks to ban fracking in its area in what it claims is the first such move by a local authority against the process

A local council is seeking to ban fracking in its area in what it claims is the first such move by a local authority in the UK against the controversial gas extraction procedure.

Brent, in north London, said it was seeking to use "any legal avenues" available to it to prevent energy firms being able to drill within its boundaries.

The Government firmly backs action to exploit what are believed to be large reserves of shale gas in rocks beneath the UK, which it claims could help bring down energy bills and create thousands of jobs.

Environmental activists are bitterly opposed to the technique, which opponents say can increase climate change, cause small earthquakes and pollute water supplies.

Although Labour-controlled Brent is considered unlikely to be the target of initial fracking activity, the council said it would seek a ban in response to a report by Public Health England.

Health officials said their initial review suggested the risks to people's health were low - but only so long as the process is "properly run and regulated",

Evidence from the US contained in the report shows emissions from fracking are a "significant source" of many air pollutants. Fracking sites also contribute to higher levels of ozone.

In a statement, Brent said it would " look at utilising any legal avenues it has at its disposal to stop shale gas extraction" amid concerns that insufficient regulation is in place.

Friends of the Earth ran a vocal campaign in the area earlier this week calling for the move.

Similar bans have been introduced in countries and individual areas around the world.

Council leader Muhammed Butt said: "While there may be advantages to fracking in some parts of the country it would be dangerous and reckless for companies to start drilling in Brent.

"I will do everything legally within my power to address the concerns of residents and keep Brent a frack-free zone.

"Councils have significant and widespread powers which allow us to stand up for the rights of residents.

"I am determined to use these powers to help reassure people that fracking in Brent will always be a non-starter.

"While fracking may not be planned for Brent yet, the rapid pace and scale of fracking technology means that we need to act now if we are to ensure we have the necessary examination of the powers we have to potentially prevent it from happening in the future."

Mayor of London Boris Johnson has backed fracking in and around the capital if significant reserves are found beneath it and Chancellor George Osborne has warned against environmental concerns being u sed as an "excuse" to drag out decisions over applications.

Friends of the Earth anti-fracking campaigner Helen Rimmer said it was a "great outcome" and predicted many other authorities would follow suit under pressure from communities.

Several had already passed motions opposing the involvement of their areas, she said, complaining that councils had their "hands tied" by being forced to put economic before green concerns.

Official maps suggested parts of Brent could be covered by the next round of Government licenses for exploratory work, she pointed out.

"The Government keeps promising that we will have the strongest regulatory framework in the world," she said.

"But if anything they are seeking to weaken it and tying the hands of the local authorities."

A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said: "Shale gas has the potential to provide the UK with greater energy security, growth and jobs.

"The Government has put in place robust regulatory checks and controls to safeguard the environment and provide reassurance to residents.

"It is for local councils to determine shale gas planning applications on their individual merits: but adopting an arbitrary blanket ban is not appropriate under planning law."

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