‘Bucks has little to offer frackers’

Map of Bucks showing block in pink released for licensing by the government. Council wards: 14/15- Aylesbury; 7-Winslow; 2/4-Buckingham
Map of Bucks showing block in pink released for licensing by the government. Council wards: 14/15- Aylesbury; 7-Winslow; 2/4-Buckingham

Bucks is unlikely to contain gas-bearing shale beneath its surface, making chances of fracking very small, according to a new report.

The Government previously released two areas of Bucks for prospecting licences – in the 14th landward licensing round – on the western and southern sides of the county.

The area to the west includes Winslow, Stone, Waddesdon, Buckingham, Grendon Underwood and even the north-western fringe of Aylesbury.

However, a report to the council’s environment select committee said that commercially-viable quantities of conventional gas do not appear to be present in the two areas.

And considering geological conditions most suited to the presence of oil and gas-bearing shales, it appears unlikely that gas-bearing shales are present.

On Tuesday the committee was told that this means the likelihood of exploration, using hydraulic fracturing (fracking) presently appears very small.

The council will begin drawing up its new minerals plan in the next few weeks. It will contain reviewed policies to cover onshore oil and gas extraction.

Councillor Lesley Clarke, cabinet member for the environment, said: “It’s likely to be costly for companies to prospect here in Buckinghamshire. And they’ll probably want to go for low-hanging fruit first.

“But you can never say “never”, and as a responsible council, serving the best interests of our residents, oil and gas will be an issue we will need to consider in the Replacement Minerals and Waste Local Plan.”

Lester Hannington, lead officer for minerals and waste planning policy, told the committee during the last 50 years the limited drilling in Buckinghamshire had shown no commercially viable quantities of gas, and more recently there has been no more interest in prospecting.

“But the UK tax regime is more favourable to prospecting explorers now, coupled with greater interest in unconventional gas exploration, which is raising ‘fracking’ in the public awareness,’ he said.

“Even though it appears unlikely that gas bearing shales are present in Buckinghamshire, we still need to keep our policies up to date so as be effective if the council receives applications for exploration for oil and gas.”

Mr Hannington said the plan would take account of new Government planning practice guidance covering oil and gas, as well as rules and regulations that already exist, such as those exercised by other regulators such as the Environment Agency.

In a previous round of onshore licensing, an area on the southern tip of the county was earmarked, but no one took up the licence.

Potential prospectors have until October 28 2014 to apply for Government licences, and it is not expected to make an announcement until next year.

Potential prospectors would also need to apply for planning permission from the county council, a permit from the Environment Agency, and consent from the Health and Safety Executive.

Depending upon the location they may also need to consult Natural England, the Hazardous Substances Authorities, and the British Geological Survey.

Select committee chairman Warren Whyte welcomed the report. “It will be important to maintain our communication flow to ensure all sections of the community are kept up-to-date and able to participate in the debate.”

Read the report here.