National Trust Charity Holds Out Against Shale Probes

UK charity National Trust is standing firm against allowing seismic surveying – a prerequisite for shale gas exploration – at its historic Clumber Park in Nottinghamshire, despite suggestions by Ineos Shale that it might invoke the Working Facilities and Support Act of 1966 if landowners refuse permission to survey. This law dating from the coal mining era allows companies to apply for an “ancillary right” of access.

Invoking the act entails a long procedure. To do so, a company would have to write to the UK Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to obtain ministerial approval for going to court. If the responsible minister believed the intended operator could not progress further by negotiation with the landowner and there was a suitable case for access, the case could be referred to the courts.

For its part, a court would have to be satisfied that the application was “expedient in the national interest.” It also would have to consider the impact of seismic surveying on local amenities before determining whether access should be granted and the basis of any compensation for the landowner.

Environmentalists’ publication in January of plans by Ineos to carry out surveys less than 200 meters from the Major Oak, a sprawling 1,000-year old tree in Nottinghamshire’s Sherwood Forest that according to legend sheltered Robin Hood and his merry men in the 15th century, touched off an outcry against shale gas exploitation on historic lands. 

The National Trust has said it is opposed to fracking and will not allow surveying for fracking purposes. The charity said it had had been contacted by Ineos Shale about carrying out investigative surveys relating to gas and shale extraction but said it would reject any fracking requests or inquiries. Clumber Park has what is claimed to be the longest double avenue of lime trees in Europe.

A spokesperson for Ineos told British media the company remains hopeful of agreeing access to conduct surveys on land owned or managed by the National Trust within its license areas.

“While the National Trust may have a “presumption against fracking,” it said a seismic survey “provides more geological information than for that purpose alone. An extensive regional survey would be of great interest to scientists now and in the future as the data would become part of the geological database of the UK and including Clumber Park would be helpful to that national interest.”

Ineos Shale said it is “currently receiving signed license agreements daily” and if all goes to plan expects to start survey work in the East Midlands region in the first half of 2017. However, “except in exceptional circumstances we do not anticipate applying under the act,” the company said, adding: “Large tracts of land such as Clumber Park can be dealt with separately to the rest of the survey and any action we decide to take under the act will not hold up the main survey.”

According to press reports, another large landowner in England’s East Midlands, Chatsworth Estate, has agreed to allow Ineos to survey its land between Chesterfield and Worksop after being informed the company could invoke the 1966 law.

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