The South Downs National Park is currently facing a threat from hydrocarbon prospector Celtique Energy who have applied to drill near Fenhurst, within the protected areas legal boundaries. Although the planning application does not include plans to frack, Celtique Energie have been criticized by the Ecologist Magazine for down playing the likely hood of future hydraulic fracturing while emphasizing this practice to investors.
On its Minerals and Waste Policy page, The South Downs National Park Authority says it is unable to ban the practice of fracking within the protected area as:
” An outright ban on fracking may result in challenges to the High Court on the basis that an application was ‘pre-judged’. ” SDNPA Minerals & Waste Policy
In an open letter to the UK’s 15 National Park Authorities, Protected Area Watch has questioned this interpretation of UK Law in relation to the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, the Environmental Protection Act 1990 & the Environment Act 1995.
Like the sites of earlier protests at Balcombe within the Wealden A.O.N.B. ( Fenhurst is also protected under the South Downs AONB designation – AONB having identical legal protections under UK law as National Parks ) there has been a conspicuous lack of prior public consultation and lack of transparency over hydrocarbon development plans within the protected area – a widely cited process and prerequisite of all industry best practice.
The drilling proposals differ from the Balcombe site in a couple of important ways – no prior well exists at the Fenhurst site – unlike Conoco’s well of 1986 at Balcombe and importantly, the declared target is shale, meaning that unlike Balcombe, successful development of the well is almost certain to involve ‘fracking’.
The South Downs National Park provides important amenity space for thousands of people as well as essential habitat for some of the UK’s most threatened biodiversity – not to mention representing an iconic UK landscape. The proliferation of local resistance is proof – contrary to reports in the UK media that protests are ‘irrational’ or insignificant, or that opposition is made up of ‘professional protestors’ – that onshore unconventional petro-development has no social license among the communities of the South Downs National Park and Sussex Downs A.O.N.B.
No Social License – Local Community Opposition to Onshore Unconventional Oil & Gas