The most recent battleground for the future of fracking in the UK is Sherwood Forest, the legendary home of folk hero Robin Hood and today the focus of a seismic study by Ineos.
The multinational chemical company, which moved its headquarters back to the UK last month, seems to have agreed upon conditions with the Forestry to start out on burying charges and spend up to two years using “thumper trucks” or vibroseis machines to look for shale gas.
Campaigners are asking authorities to block all possible fracking and to protect the forest and surrounding environment.
According to information acquired under freedom of information request by Friends of the Earth, Ineos could be working within 200 metres of the Major Oak, a 1,000-year old tree that in folklore sheltered Robin Hood and his merry men.
Commercial fracking has yet to be implemented in Britain, although Ineos and other organizations have acquired licences from the government for shale gas exploration. The technology has been extremely polemical since tests conducted by Cuadrilla in 2011 resulted in tremors near Blackpool, but fracking is expected to restart in five wells in Yorkshire and Lancashire later this year.
A relatively small protest camp has already been founded at Kirby Misperton, North Yorkshire, at one of the wells where gas firm Third Energy has been authorized to commence fracking.
Guy Shrubsole, a Friends of the Earth campaigner, said he expected the move to search for shale gas under Sherwood Forest to turn into a new rallying point. He said: “I can’t think of anything more iconic in the English mindset to go for. You’d have thought they’d have learnt from the mistakes of some of the other fracking companies to avoid it, but they’ve gone straight for it. ”
Ineos told the Daily Telegraph that no decision had taken place on whether fracking would go forward under the national nature reserve, adding that “any decision to position a well site will take into account environmental features like the Major Oak”.
The firm’s shale procedures director, Tom Pickering, said: “Potentially we in the UK have a huge supply of indigenous gas under our own feet. It would be simply crazy not to explore this natural resource. ”
However, Friends of the Earth fear that the seismic surveys could harm the forest, whose core is a site of special scientific interest, as well as its wildlife, which include rare bats and other protected species. The Forestry commission has mandated that Ineos place its charges at minimum 50 from badgers’ setts and conservation sites.
Ineos is comparatively new player in fracking, but was one of the big winners in the governmental handout of permits to explore, winning 21 of 159 awarded a year ago.
The firm, founded by Jim Ratcliffe and with 17,000 employees worldwide, was welcomed to the UK by the government last month as a “vote of confidence in the UK economy”, as it promised a $2bn investment in businesses including shale gas.
Further interest by Ineos to conduct fracking surveys in Nottinghamshire have been turned down. The National Trust refused the firm authorization to conduct surveys in Clumber Park, a few miles to the north of the forest.