As far as the River Foss Society can tell at present, shale gas extraction in the Vale of York by means of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) is unlikely to threaten the environment of the River Foss, despite the fact that the whole of the catchment is included within areas covered by Government-issued Petroleum Exploration and Development licenses (PEDLs). No applications have been received for fracking exploration anywhere near the Foss, and given the safeguards in place, it seems most unlikely that any such application would be approved.
Fracking is probably the most controversial issue covered by the Minerals and Waste Joint Plan, issued in November 2016 by the combined planning authorities of the City of York, North Yorkshire County Council and the North York Moors National Park. No doubt in recognition of widespread public concern, the combined regulatory authorities (Oil and Gas Authority, Environment Agency, Health and Safety Executive, Public Health England) organised an information day in York in November, to coincide with the consultation period for the Minerals and Waste Plan.
Members of the Society attended the information day, and met afterwards to discuss our approach to the Minerals and Waste Plan. There are conflicting arguments about the safety of fracking and the climate change impact of burning shale gas, but the River Foss Society has no mandate to take a view on either question. Given that our aim is solely to protect the environment of the Foss corridor, we decided that there were no grounds for us to object to the Plan, because of the strong protection it offers for the river.
Although the Plan’s presumption is in favour of sustainable mineral development, it seems highly unlikely that permission would be granted for fracking along the Foss, whose whole length is subject to protection, either within the Howardian Hills AONB or as a Green Corridor within the York Local Plan. Besides, planning authorities must consider the impact of development on public rights of way, on biodiversity, on the quality of farmland and on the environs of historic York. Fracking also needs the Environment Agency’s consent, which would be refused where there is any risk of flooding or contamination of watercourses or groundwater.
Nevertheless, we should not be complacent. While surface drilling will not be allowed in protected areas, it will still be possible to tunnel underneath them from sites beyond their boundaries, possibly to their visual detriment. The Society will need to remain vigilant!