ANTI-FRACKING campaigners have warned the “floodgates are open” after three sites were earmarked as potential drilling sites.

The three zones in the Sussex countryside are part of nearly 6,000 square miles across the country designated as potential areas for the controversial gas extraction process.

One of the sites near Chichester is in the South Downs National Park, near Goodwood House, the second is just north of Bognor surrounding the village of Woodgate and the third is on the outskirts of East Grinstead.

The sites in the county are subject to environmental consultation.

The announcement comes as the Government revealed measures to fast-track planning applications for fracking, with ministers able to step in and take over decision-making from local councils on any application.

Caroline Lucas, MP for Brighton Pavilion, who was arrested during the fracking protests in Balcombe in 2014, said: “It’s deeply concerning to see new licences for fracking being awarded in Sussex. There’s no doubt that campaigners across the region will now be gearing up for the fight to protect our treasured countryside.

“Indeed the Government’s entire environmental record is now in tatters as ministers open the floodgates to further fossil fuel extraction by promising to fast-track fracking while at the same time cutting support for renewables.

“Tackling climate change by investing in renewables and energy conservation will create jobs in every part of the UK and ensure we provide a safe and secure future for our children and grandchildren.

“The Government’s capitulation to the fossil fuel industry on fracking is utterly short-sighted and economically illiterate.

“I’ll be working with campaigners across the South, and indeed across the UK, to keep fracking out of our countryside.”

The potential site in the national park comes despite Amber Rudd, energy secretary, promising earlier this year an outright ban on fracking in areas of outstanding natural beauty.

Daisy Sands, Greenpeace UK energy and climate campaigner, said: “This is the starting gun to the fight for the future of our countryside.”

A spokeswoman for Frack Free Sussex said: “They are not meant to be drilling in national parks, but they could end up being just a few metres outside of the South Downs.

“Every time the Government makes an announcement like this it just brings more people on board – with more than 300 groups nationwide against fracking.”

She added: “They want to turn it into central Government energy policy – their complete focus is on an industry which is going to cause environmental damage.”

Energy minister Lord Bourne said backing onshore oil and gas and the safe development of the shale gas industry, would help build a more resilient economy, create jobs and secure energy supplies.

He said: “Keeping the lights on and powering the economy is not negotiable and these industries will play a key part in providing secure and reliable energy to UK homes and businesses for decades to come.”

Richard Warren, senior energy policy adviser at EEF, formerly the Engineering Employers’ Federation, said the move, following on from the planning announcement, confirmed the Government was serious about shale and was getting to grips with the issue.


What is fracking?
A high-pressure mixture of chemicals, water and sand are pumped underground to split rock and access trapped reserves of oil and gas. 

What is shale gas? 
Shale gas is a natural gas which is trapped between finely grained rocks known as shale. The gas becomes trapped in the rocks due to geological movements and is frequently found at great depths – sometimes more than 2km below the surface.

Is there shale oil and gas in Sussex?
One of the first shale gas wells was drilled in the centre of the county in 1875 and in 1896 a well bored at Heathfield provided gas to light the railway station. However, it is unclear how much lies beneath the county until more exploratory drilling is carried out.

Why is fracking controversial? 
Environmental campaigners say the extraction of oil and gas would increase our reliance on fossil fuels. In the US there are also reports of contaminated water sources and minor earthquakes but companies say it is completely safe. Also to be commercially viable large amounts of the gas must be extracted on a large scale due to the expense of the method.

What is the Government’s position?
The industry is still in its infancy in the UK but the Government considers fracking a potential source of energy security, cutting down our dependence on imports, but also something which could create jobs. 

What do companies need to do to drill in Sussex? 
The new licences are subject to environmental consultation. Once permission is granted the companies will have to carry out exploratory drilling to test the value of the sites before large-scale operations can move ahead.

Is fracking new? 
The technique of fracking has been used by the energy industry for more than 60 years but technological advances have bought the method to the fore again, with the industry booming in America.

Are the chemicals used in fracking dangerous?
In America there have been reports of toxic chemicals escaping into the environment as a result of fracking. 
In the UK, chemicals used in the fracking process must be assessed by the Environment Agency and shown by the operator to be not hazardous. 

Wasn’t fracking banned?
A temporary ban was introduced in 2011 after some minor earthquakes near Blackpool. But this was lifted in 2012 after a review by the Department for Energy and Climate Change. 

What do the latest licences mean?
In total 6,000 square miles has been earmarked for fracking in the UK. Under this latest announcement, 1,000 square miles has been given the go ahead while the further 5,000, which includes the Sussex sites, will require further environmental study.