Ineos Unfearful of Robin Hood’s Bow

04.01.2017 -

In its drive to leave an imprint on the British landscape, olefins and polyolefins giant Ineos has been beating the drum for several years, and the now partly repatriated former British-based group claims to have won the largest contingent of UK government-issued shale gas exploration permits, despite being a newcomer to the sector.

But while the chemical producer also has invested considerable sums in winning the good will of the population living near its license areas and has not shied away from criticizing anti-fracking activists, its latest move could take it into uncharted cultural territory.

Documents released to environmental advocacy group Friends of the Earth under the British Freedom of Information legislation show that Ineos wants to explore for shale gas within 200 meters of the Major Oak, a 1,000-year old tree near the village of Edwinstowe in Nottinghamshire. Part of a national nature preserve, the area is also steeped in history. According to legend, the oak – voted Britain's favorite tree in 2002 – sheltered Robin Hood and his band of “merry men” while they hid from the Sheriff of Nottingham in the 15th century.

Friends of the Earth said the documents reveal that surveyors Fisher German have been in correspondence with the UK Forestry Commission on Ineos’ behalf since August of last year regarding access to the land. According to the newspaper The Guardian, the chemical group appears to have already agreed terms with the commission.

Tom Pickering, Ineos' shale operations director, told the UK press that “any decision to position a well site will take into account environmental features such as the Major Oak and the planning process would also consider those issues.” He said no decision on fracking under Sherwood Forest has yet been taken, pending the review of seismic data across its wider license area. Only if vertical tests show gas finds would it undertake horizontal drilling.

UK fracking opponents do not plan to sit back and wait to see what Ineos finds. According to news reports, a small protest camp has already been established at Kirby Misperton in North Yorkshire, at one of the wells where gas firm Third Energy won permission to start fracking after a local council’s veto was overturned.

Guy Shrubsole, a Friends of the Earth campaigner, told the newspaper The Telegraph he expects the news of Ineos’ plans to drill in Sherwood Forest to refresh anti-fracking sentiment. “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,” Shrubsole is quoted as saying.

The documents obtained by the environmentalists also show that Ineos earlier sought permission to carry out surveys for gas on National Trust land at Clumber Park, a large country estate to the north of Sherwood Forest, but was turned down. The group called the decision “regrettable.”