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Norfolk could benefit from fracking, energy industry leader claims

PUBLISHED: 13:42 29 July 2014 | UPDATED: 13:43 29 July 2014

Simon Gray. Photo: Bill Smith

Simon Gray. Photo: Bill Smith

Archant © 2013

Norfolk’s energy industry is perfectly placed to reap the economic rewards of onshore fracking, an industry leader has said.

Simon Gray, chief executive of the East of England Energy Group (EEEGR), believes the region has the services to support shale gas exploration across the UK – thanks to its 40 years of experience fracking in the Southern North Sea.

But Mr Gray cast doubt on the controversial process happening in East Anglia, amid claims that it would be too expensive for companies to extract shale gas from the reserves in north Norfolk.

It comes as ministers said fracking in national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONBs) and the Broads should be refused other than in “exceptional circumstances and in the public interest”.

The policy was unveiled as the latest bidding process for shale companies seeking licences to explore for oil and gas was opened.

Mr Gray said: “Because of the very nature of the Southern North Sea (SNS) gas basin, the industry in the east has been using fracking for 30 to 40 years – fracking has only hit the headlines again recently.

“There are the skills and the experience in the region that has all been utilised in the SNS already. It is different from onshore, but the opportunities are there.”

Environmentalists have branded the government’s new rules around fracking as a “sham” that creates a giant loophole that could allow fracking in protected areas.

In the guidance, planners are told to put great weight on conserving the scenic beauty and landscapes of national parks, AONBs and the Broads.

If an “unconventional” oil or gas exploration scheme represents a “major development” it should refused unless there are exceptional circumstances and it is in the public interest.

Mr Gray added: “Everything we have heard suggests that shale gas reserves are lower here than in other parts of the country,

“The chances of fracking happening are small because it is an expensive process that is not economically viable in Norfolk.”

Planners will have to consider the need for the development, including national considerations, the cost and scope for developing elsewhere and the detrimental effects on the environment, landscape and recreational opportunities in the area.

Where an application in these areas is refused and the developer launches an appeal, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles will consider whether to make the final decision himself to ensure the policy is being properly applied.

John Packman, chief executive of the Broads Authority, said it was important that Norfolk’s conservation areas remained protected.

He said: “The Broads Authority is not aware of any interest in licences for fracking in the park but welcomes the government’s intention to safeguard the Broads and all national parks to ensure our protected landscapes remain just that – protected.

“All major new infrastructure should need to pass the test of being in exceptional circumstances and in the public interest; fracking is no different.”

Do you have a business story for the Eastern Daily Press? Contact business writer Ben Woods On 01603 772426 or email ben.woods@archant.co.uk

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