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Could Melksham be next for fracking?

FRACKING could soon be permitted near to Melksham as the government gets set to issue its next round of licences for onshore fossil fuel exploration.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) this month proposed to grant 159 exploration licences for areas across the country, with Semington, Hilperton and Poulshot all earmarked.

Although Melksham isn’t directly within any of the proposed licensing ‘blocks’ – the areas which could be directly affected by exploration – two of the four applications for Wiltshire would place Melksham and its surrounding villages firmly within a 10km ‘potential zone of impact’.

Licensing blocks in Wiltshire include Trowbridge, Westbury, Hilperton, Semington and Poulshot.

The licences in question -Petroleum Exploration and Development Licences – only permit licensees to explore the areas for oil and gas, but further analysis and permissions could pave the way for development and production for up to 20 years.

Before licences are granted, the DECC are holding a consultation to seek the public’s views on  proposed exploration sites. The consultation will run until Tuesday 29th September.

If a company was granted permission to extract materials from the earth, activities could include  well construction, drilling and fracking or ‘hydraulic fracturing’. Each licence allows for a potential five years’ exploration, five years’ appraisal and development, and 20 years of production.

Fracking is a mining process used widely in the USA that involves injecting water, sand and chemicals into the ground at high pressure. The technique is intended to stimulate the release of natural gas so it can be extracted from the earth.

The process has met fierce opposition from campaigners after reports claiming it has led to polluted water supplies and health problems. It was also reported that an attempt at shale gas drilling in Blackpool in 2010 could have contributed to minor earthquakes.

To see and comment on  the official documents – the Habitats Regulations Assessments of 14th Onshore Oil and Gas Licensing Round – go to http://bit.ly/1JqURV0.

The four areas concerning Wiltshire and Somerset are referenced ST84, ST85, ST94 and ST95. Maps of each area can be found on pages 114, 115, 116 and 117 of Appendix E.