By Saul Cooke-Black

FRACKING could take place in Sharpness and impact across Stroud district after a licence was awarded to explore for oil and gas.

It is one of 27 new licenses which have been awarded to energy companies as the government pushes forward with the controversial drilling practice.

Around 1,000 square miles of England are covered by the 27 confirmed licences, with a further 5,000 square miles subject to consultation.

Paul Denney, vice-chair of environment committee at Stroud District Council, said: "I have had a brief chance to look through the proposals but already alarm bells are ringing.

"Surrounding the licence block boundary is a 10km potential zone of impact that covers from Thornbury in the south to Hardwicke in the north and Coleford in the west to Cam and Dursley in the East".

"What is meant by a ‘zone of impact’ is not stated but it sounds rather ominous, especially as within that area are two former nuclear power station sites, a wildlife reserve of international importance and a heck of a lot of people.

"As a councillor I am very concerned that fracking could be taking place here in the district.

"Surely subsidies would be better spent on renewable energy that doesn't come with the public health risks and the pollution that's involved in fracking.

"We don't want fracking and we don't need fracking - and I will do my best to ensure we don't get fracking."

The controversial practice, which involves drilling into the earth to release gas inside rocks, is intended to help reduce energy bills but many are concerned about its impact on the environment.

MP for Stroud Neil Carmichael said he had not seen the details of the proposal but that he would only support fracking in a region if it was 'economically viable and environmentally sustainable.'
He added that he had always understood it was 'extremely unlikely' that fracking would go ahead in Stroud district.

Liz Ashton, Labour councillor for Berkeley and Sharpness, said: "We were told that it was very unlikely that fracking would happen locally - and they say now that licences are being issued for exploration only at this stage.

"However, we know that oil companies are not going to put money into exploration if there’s no likelihood of making any money out of the site and the fact that the area has been included tells its own story.

"David Cameron promised the greenest government ever and this is yet another example of him reneging on his promise."

The zone of impact would also affect the wetland nature reserve at WWT Slimbridge.  
Peter Morris, from the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust at Slimbridge, said: "We are concerned if plans are rushed through without enough concern for impacts on local people and wildlife.
"We’ll use our specialist scientific knowledge to assess the government’s evidence and methods and publish our response to their consultation to help everyone locally see the legal factors that need to be weighed up."

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."

There will be a peaceful demonstration against the new proposals outside the buildings of Gloucestershire County Council on September 3 at 9.30am, organised by Frack Off Our Forest.