Q&A: What you need to know about the possibility of fracking in Weston-super-Mare

PUBLISHED: 08:00 17 December 2016

The Mendip Hills (Picture: Simon Williams).

The Mendip Hills (Picture: Simon Williams).

Simon Williams

A company which holds licences to search for gas in Weston-super-Mare and the surrounding area has revealed its intentions to build a power station to generate electricity. Campaigners fear this may lead to fracking in North Somerset. Here is our guide to what this all means.

Could fracking take place in North Somerset? (Picture by James Griffiths).Could fracking take place in North Somerset? (Picture by James Griffiths).

Who holds the licences?

Wales-based company South Western Energy Limited was granted seven licences last year to search for gas in rocks beneath Weston, as well as the surrounding area going up to Clevedon and down to Burnham and Minehead.

The licences mean it has exclusive access to search for gas by drilling wells in those areas, although it needs to secure planning permission first.

If the company does find gas, it will then need further planning permission to get it from the ground by either fracking or drilling a hole and extracting the gas through a pipe.

Fracking involves a well being drilled into the ground, and water then being forced down it at high pressure. This creates cracks in the rocks, which release shale gas.

Is there gas beneath Somerset?

South Western Energy’s director Gerwyn Williams said he is convinced there is a large reserve of gas beneath Somerset, and told the BBC he is ‘committed’ to finding out for sure by drilling test wells.

He said: “We know quite a lot about the geology in Somerset and we feel it can produce gas.

“I’m not going to give up until we see gas being produced from the areas we’ve been working on for many years.”

Although the company’s licences cover areas outside of North Somerset, Mr Williams said the Bristol Channel is a particular focus as the geology is similar to South Wales – where shale gas has been found.

Will this lead to fracking?

Mr Williams declined to answer any further questions when approached by the Mercury. But he told the BBC it would be easier for the company to extract conventional gas from Somerset.

This is because it does not require fracking as it comes out of the ground more easily than shale gas does.

Mr Williams added: “Once we’ve won that task, we will look at setting up a small, modular power station somewhere and generate the electricity rather than selling the gas directly.”

But although the company is hoping it will be able to extract conventional gas, this is not a certainty, and with the necessary permissions, it may extra gas via fracking.

What is the controversy over fracking?

Fracking has proved to be particularly controversial, with environmentalists arguing it can contaminate water and lead to earth tremors. Anti-fracking campaigners have already launched a petition calling for no fracking to take place in Weston or the surrounding area.

They say a ‘modular power station’ means it could grow in size by having new parts added to it.

Louise Somerville Williams, spokesman for campaign group Frack Free Somerset, said: “More than 800 peer-reviewed academic studies have clearly demonstrated the many dangers caused by fracking.

“Sustainable renewable, locally generated energy from wind, wave and sun is the future for the people of North Somerset.”

What happens next?

Mr Williams said it could take two years before the company can begin drilling.

He expects it will first take a year to carry out studies of the area, and then another year to get the relevant planning and environmental permissions, and negotiate with land-owners.

Want to know more?

South Western Energy does not have a website, but there is information on the licenced areas available from the Government.

Frack Free North Somerset will meet at the Bristol Hotel in Locking Road on Wednesday at 7.30pm.

Click to view the anti-fracking petition, which had been signed by more than 800 people at the time of writing.

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