Fracking equipment at Cuadrilla's site in Balcombe, West Sussex

Fracking 'legal block' launched by Greenpeace

Greenpeace is planning legal challenges against fracking in a bid to halt plans for the controversial method of shale gas extraction.

The campaign group said it expected thousands of people to join the "legal block" in which homeowners will contest any plans by energy companies to drill horizontally under people’s homes; something Greenpeace says would be unlawful if they do not have permission.

Greenpeace said a number of residents in areas of potential fracking sites were joining the campaign and hope that it will create a series of "no-go areas" across England.

Lawyer Kate Harrison of Harrison Grant said: "The common law on this is clear. If fracking companies don't seek and receive permission for drilling under people's homes they will be liable for trespass.

"Companies would do well to respect people's rights and not push on with drilling plans where they're not wanted."

Opponents claim water used in the fracking process will be contaminated and could enter domestic supplies. It was temporarily banned in the UK after it was blamed for two earth tremors in Blackpool in 2011 but a government review has concluded fracking is safe if adequately monitored.

Greenpeace spokeswoman Anna Jones said fracking was a "desperate ploy" by the government to keep the UK hooked on fossil fuels, adding: "Fracking is risky for local environments, risky for our water supplies and risky for the global climate. People are right to stand up and say 'not under my land you don't'."

Among those signing up to the campaign is Andrew Pemberton, a Lancashire dairy farmer,

He said: "I'm supplying milk to 3,000 households, and if for any reason my water became contaminated, my business would be ruined and my livelihood destroyed, as well as the livelihoods of the 16 families who work for me. Fracking is dangerous and short-sighted. We should be keeping this gas in the ground."

The UK Onshore Operators Group, the representative body for the UK onshore oil and gas industry, called the announcement “extremely misleading".

It added: “Operators in this country are abiding by the law, which states that activities at depths of over a mile under the ground do not impact landowners. However, in line with the law, operators will inform all landowners in a very clear and transparent manner.

"Underground working is hardly something that is employed by just the oil and gas industry but includes pipelines, fibre optics, geothermal energy and transport tunnelling to name but a few.

"We would welcome the opportunity to have a constructive dialogue with Greenpeace and other environmental groups.

“This is an industry that has successfully been drilling for oil and gas onshore for over 150 years and has the opportunity to provide jobs, tax revenues, electricity and gas for citizens of this country for a long time to come and at a time when it has been shown we need it most."

A Department of Energy and Climate Change spokesman said: "This is not a block to shale gas development in the UK. There is flexibility about where to locate a drilling rig to access any oil or gas resources.

"Like any other industrial activity, oil and gas operations will normally require the agreement of the landowners whose land is used. Oil or gas developers will negotiate with landowners as necessary and agree terms for the access they require."

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