THE local authority which covers large parts of the South Downs has said it is satisfied that fracking is safe.
But the comments by Councillor Melissa Maynard, East Hampshire District Council’s environment spokeswoman, have been met with anger from environmentalists.
Cllr Maynard was responding to the findings of the British Geological Survey, which found there was virtually no shale gas but up to 8bn barrels of shale oil in the Weald Basin – which includes parts of East Hampshire and West Sussex.
It means there is the potential to make money by using fracking to remove the oil.
Campaigners believe the exploration process is unsafe.
Cllr Maynard says in principle they would support that exploration – although it is not the planning authority.
That is the responsibility of the county council and South Downs National Park Authority.
She said: ‘While in principle we would prefer to see investment in low-carbon energy, we have nonetheless made it our business to understand the process of fracking and the regulatory controls in place to supervise this industry.
‘I’m satisfied that the risk and level of seismic activity triggered by the hydraulic fracturing process is very low and that robust monitoring is in place to identify and control that risk. I’m also satisfied that well integrity is a high priority with regulations and engineering standards far higher and more robust than in other countries where issues have arisen.’
Ray Cobbett, the Hampshire co-ordinator for Friends of the Earth, has blasted Cllr Maynard’s comments as ‘irresponsible’.
He added: ‘Giving fracking a green light ahead of any planning applications is unnecessary and worrying.
‘They should be extra vigilant as an authority representing an area of outstanding natural beauty like the Downs and Sussex Weald. Our view is that the precautionary principle should apply to fracking.
‘Without fracking the world already has six times more fossil fuel reserves than it is considered safe to burn if we are to stay below a two-degree rise in temperature.
‘Industrialising the South Downs is not a solution.’
Proposals have been announced which would see payments of £20,000 per fracking well to the local community.