Anti-fracking campaigners fear Sherwood Forest will be damaged by plans to frack for shale gas around it – despite a double U-turn by ministers which will supposedly protect important countryside sites.
The result of a consultation held in the summer to allow fracking to take place in nine licensed areas around Sherwood Forest is still to be published by the Department for Energy and Climate Change.
The Government had been set to do a U-turn on plans that would have banned fracking in protected wildlife areas and drinking water protection zones.
However, a new consultation was launched last week, with the Government now “seeking to ensure surface activities associated with hydraulic fracturing will not occur in specified protected areas”.
This new law could, however, mean fracking could still take place under these protected areas, with the surface drilling occurring outside of their boundaries.
Greg Hewitt, a member of campaign group Frack Free Nottinghamshire, said Sherwood Forest could still be affected by many of the problems associated with fracking.
He said: “People say it’s not on the surface so it’s all okay.
“Our main concerns are that fracking can affect the surface and the drinking water supply and the effect it will have on wildlife.
“We know fracking causes earthquakes and that will also affect the surface area.”
Shale gas test drilling near Blackpool was suspended in 2011 after several earth tremors. A later study said it was “highly probable” that the drilling had caused the tremors.
Elsewhere, water supplies have been contaminated by the chemicals used in fracking in the USA, while there are also fears it will lead to the industrialisation of the countryside.
Other concerns relate to traffic movements getting the water and chemicals used in the process on and off site and the noise it produces.
The nine licence blocks around Sherwood Forest include Clumber Park, around the Major Oak, Sherwood Pines and Ollerton, at Eakring, between Clipstone and Market Warsop and in the Bolsover and Hardwick Hall areas.
The ancient woodland around the Major Oak – known as the Birklands and Bilhaugh Special Area of Conservation – would be protected from surface activities under the new legislation.
However, New Ollerton was the most seismic area in the UK in 2014 when it was hit by 30 earthquakes in 50 days.
And Mr Hewitt said: “The evidence has proven that fracking causes earthquakes, so if we talk about doing it in the area that’s the most seismic in the UK, it’s crazy.”
Frack Free Nottinghamshire also has fears about fracking taking place in a former coal mining area, due to the existing mine shafts and mines and the potential for subsidence.
Helen Mitchem, from the group, said: “Sherwood Forest provides an important heathland habitat, home to rare birds and plants which could suffer from noise, vibration, air pollution, or contamination of soil and groundwater.
“The evidence shows fracking operations are intensive and disruptive to human, animal and plant life, so we urge local residents and businesses to oppose the Government’s proposals to allow prospecting for oil and gas to penetrate this sensitive area.”
However Mark Spencer, Sherwood MP, said he was “in favour” of fracking – but that fracking companies need to do it “in a safe manner so they don’t cause environmental damage”.
He said: “What’s important is that the companies adhere to the strict environmental legislation put in place.”
Mr Spencer said fracking is “less invasive” than the coal extraction Nottinghamshire is used to, and thinks “it will be better than it was in terms of seismic activity”.
He has sought assurances from Severn Trent about the risks of drinking water and water used for agriculture being contaminated and said there are no concerns. He said: “I am fairly content that there is not an issue and we are not putting any risk in that at all.”
Swiss petrochemical giant Ineos has already been granted a licence to carry out “shale gas and oil exploration” in North Nottinghamshire, near Worksop and Retford.
And Gary Haywood, Ineos chief executive officer, said: “Shale gas is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity the UK cannot afford to miss.
“North Sea oil created great wealth for the UK and Shale gas can do the same. It will help secure manufacturing, deliver investment and create thousands of jobs, provide us with greater energy security.
“It will also help us to meet our climate change obligations using our own home-grown source of energy.
“We recognise shale gas extraction is a controversial issue, but steps will be taken to engage with communities to accurately convey the risks and rewards.”