Council declares ‘Frack-Free Zone’ on Somerset coast

Somerset coast pedls

Exploration licences on the Somerset coast. Source: Oil & Gas Authority

Councillors have voted to oppose fracking on the Somerset coast between Minehead and Burnham-on-Sea.

Somerset West and Taunton Council backed a motion against fracking in its district, which includes part of the Exmoor National Park.

The government granted three exploration licences to South Western Energy Limited in 2016 to explore for shale gas on the Somerset coast. One of them, PEDL344, is in the Somerset West and Taunton Council area.

The council is not the mineral planning authority. Final decisions on any fracking applications would be taken by Somerset County Council or the Exmoor National Park Authority. But Somerset West and Taunton must be formally consulted on any proposal.

The motion, proposed by Liberal Democrat Caroline Ellis, stated that developing onshore oil and gas in the area was inappropriate because of the:

  • complex local geology
  • European, national and locally designated wildlife sites
  • flood risk
  • presence of Hinkley Point nuclear power station
  • uncertain impacts

It added

“onshore unconventional oil and gas extraction is contrary to any strategy to address climate breakdown, diverting investment from clean, renewable energy and weakening the market for those alternatives”.

It would also “thwart attempts to make Somerset West and Taunton carbon neutral by 2030”, the motion said.

Councillor Ellis said:

“We do not want our beautiful countryside industrialised and despoiled. We are not prepared to see our water supplies put under such intolerable pressure.”

Her motion said there were weaknesses in UK regulations because regulators were often “under budgetary pressures” and it was left to companies to monitor pollution.

She called on Somerset County Council and Exmoor National Park Authority to pass similar motions and put in places planning polices that had a presumption against unconventional oil and gas developments.

“The message from this council needs to be loud and clear: not here, not anywhere. Frack off!”

The local campaign group, Frack Free Exmoor Quantocks and Sedgemoor said:

“We felt this was an accumulation of three years of campaigning and raising awareness that led to this result. Without the clear message sent from local communities via their parish and town Council’s frack free resolutions, this is unlikely to have happened.”

Other local frack-free zones have been approved by Watchet and Wiveliscombe town councils and parish councils including Bishops Lydeard and Cothelstone, Clatworthy, Dulverton, Exton, Old Cleeve, Selworthy and Minehead Without and Stogumber.

The West Somerset and Taunton motion is the first in the UK to refer to a case at the High Court brought by Claire Stephenson for the campaign group, Talk Fracking. During the hearing, the government’s barrister conceded that public bodies could depart from government policy and adopt their own stance opposed to fracking on climate change grounds.

Steve  Mason, of the campaign network, Frack Free United, welcomed the council’s vote. He said

“I encourage councillors across the country to do the same.

“The Talk Fracking case has given authorities the opportunity to take a position against fracking, and to revise any policies, plans or investments based on the government policy.

“Our campaign, which includes a template motion and the legal advice gives campaigners the tools to lobby their councils to take action. It works.”

13 replies »

  1. With a nuclear power station sitting on the doorstep, I don’t think government sponsored licensing of fracking induced earthquakes are a particularly good idea.

    • Russ – there seems to be loads of nuclear reactors in all of the places in the USA where fracking occurs – I go over there every couple of months and haven’t noticed people falling over with radiation poisoning. Maybe it’s not quite the problem that you imagine

      • Any actual figures on the number of nuclear powerstations in the US less than 10 miles from a fracking site would, I’m sure, be gratefully received. And while you’re about it, links to academic studies on the validity of measuring radiation levels by counting the number of people falling over would be appreciated.

  2. I think that nuclear is government sponsored as well, as was onshore wind ( which is struggling without that sponsorship ).

    However the power stations are designed to cope with seismic events, although the risk assessment would
    need reviewing in the light of any new sources of seismic activity I guess ( as the power stations are designed to cope ).

    Meanwhile there are those who do not like nuclear etc in Somerset

    Stop nuclear



    Although, should suitable and sufficient subsidies turn up for onshore wind and solar, the protestors of the past may now welcome such developments.

  3. It is actually not within the legal power of councillors to declare frack free zones. In any case why would anyone want to frack near surface Jurassic oil shales (my friend retorted)? All this shows is that the Councillors are at best misinformed, or they are just grandstanding to get populist votes, or both? They are certainly not leaders.

  4. So it’s okay to frack in northwest ?, leaving the south untouched ?.The so called government go against local opposition and do it anyway.

    • James – could you identify the areas down south that one should be fracking? I thought that most of the prospects for shale gas in the south were thermally immature – but please prove me.

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