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Could fracking come to West Berkshire?

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Government votes in new powers for firms to frack below protected land

West Berkshire’s protected countryside could be the site of industrial fracking after Parliament voted in new powers allowing firms to use the controversial practice below protected sites such as the North Wessex Downs.

Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty had been protected from companies seeking to extract shale gas trapped underground, but last Wednesday’s vote, won with 298 votes to 261, has opened up the possibility, as long as it is 1,200m underground.

Hydraulic fracturing is a process that involves drilling into the earth and adding a high-pressured water mixture into rock in order to release gas trapped inside.

It is known as fracking because of how the underground rock fractures as a result.

The decision came just days before scientists in Canada claimed that a 4.6 magnitude quake in British Colombia was a direct result of the process.

David Marsh, speaking on behalf of Newbury Green Party, said: “The Green Party is opposed to fracking anywhere, whether in West Berkshire or West Yorkshire.

“We believe that fracking puts corporate wealth before public health. It will accelerate climate change, worsen our dependency on increasingly expensive fossil fuels, damage investment in clean, renewable energy, and cause great damage to rural communities.

“We call on all local parties to join the Greens in stating unequivocally that we would strongly resist any proposals to frack for shale gas in the North Wessex Downs.”

He added that the Newbury Green Party was “disappointed” Newbury MP Richard Benyon voted in favour of fracking under protected sites.

Wash Common resident and ‘Say no to Sandleford’ campaigner Peter Norman said: “The news on fracking, essentially expanding the land mass available to the industry away from populated areas to some of our remoter and most beautiful areas of countryside, presumably makes this easier for the industry to get off the ground.

“But to what end? Gas is less harmful to the environment in its burning than coal or oil, but it is still a fossil fuel that adds to our overall carbon emissions.”

West Berkshire Council spokesperson Martin Dunscombe said: “Fracking is not currently a concern for the council as we don’t anticipate any interest in drilling in the area in the near future.

“There are no site licences for fracking in our area, nor are we included in any of the 132 areas currently undergoing further assessment for potential fracking opportunities.

“It’s our understanding that the type of shale gas present under West Berkshire is not particularly old and this makes it much less viable for fracking companies.”

Newbury MP Richard Benyon said it was unlikely West Berkshire would see fracking in the near future and he was pleased the practice would only be possible more than a mile underground.

He added: “I think the Government is right to seek to explore this as a form of energy.”

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