Wiltshire Publications

‘Project Westbury’ Freedom of information request confirms Westbury is a target for fracking

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WESTBURY has been confirmed as a fracking target, bringing more protests from local campaigners. 

South Western Energy has been awarded four licences to explore for gas in the area, and a Freedom of Information request by local campaigners has revealed that one of the applications was named ‘Westbury’, suggesting the company plans to drill in or near the town.

The licences, which went live in July, mean the company can now take the next steps towards drilling wells. It is expected to carry out more research but must secure planning permission from Wiltshire Council or the Government before any drilling can begin.

Fracking opponents have also hit out at Government plans to pay compensation to people living near to fracking sites, saying the scheme is based on ‘false promises’ and would divide communities.

That was in response to the announcement from new Prime Minister Theresa May that the Government was considering giving money from the shale wealth fund – 10% of tax proceeds from fracking – to householders near to wells instead of to local councils.

“Cynical move”

Westbury people campaigning against fracking say the announcement was meant to ‘create a fog over the real issues’ and that reported figures of £10,000 per household have ‘no reality’.

They say that although some people might be tempted by the money, local people will never feel the economic benefits of fracking; a controversial process of extracting gas from the ground by pumping water and chemicals down a well.

On behalf of campaign group Frack Free Westbury, local woman Val Jarvis said, “Local people will never feel the economic benefits if fracking goes ahead; the reverse is true, as any minimal cash payments given will be more than offset by the reduction in house prices and insurance issues.

“We see this as a cynical move by the Government to create a fog over the real issues of fracking and to try to entice the public with false promises.

Environmental damage

“It’s an attempt, and a very poor one, to tempt people into turning a blind eye to the health, infrastructure and environmental damage that will be caused by living near a fracking site.”

No official figures were given for what households could receive, but a BBC business correspondent said it could be up to £10,000 each.

Val continued, “Sadly some people will see the chance of making some money as a windfall, but the amounts stated in many newspapers were numbers plucked out of the air. The £10,000 per household mentioned in the press does not exist.

“Fracking companies have openly admitted that each site will not make any profits for at least five years from start up. Most wells produce 80% of the gas and revenues in the first five years. They will use these revenues to pay off their costs.

“On the very small probability that profits will be declared in the distant future, the proposal is that distribution of the money will be by a committee of local representatives. How this will work is up to interpretation. What an excellent way to split communities and create local discord, while allowing fracking companies to plough ahead regardless.”

The application forms released show that South Western Energy is committed to drilling somewhere within the two westernmost licence blocks – the ones containing Westbury, Trowbridge, Warminster and Horningsham.

It considers there to be a ‘good chance of success’ at finding a gas called coal bed methane, and it is also expected to explore for other types of gas, though they are considered less promising.

Rallying support

Frack Free Westbury is a group of local people rallying opposition to fracking companies targeting the area. They are worried that fracking operations would dent house prices, increase heavy traffic, damage the environment, and affect the water supply.

The group holds regular meetings and has connections with the countywide group Keep Wiltshire Frack Free.

To find out more go to the ‘Frack Free Westbury’ Facebook page.