Drilling for gas in a national park

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Thousand-year-old swathes of national park land could be lost to make way for gas mining as demand for energy in the UK continues to rise.

The North York Moors is facing the biggest wave of development in its 61-year history from a series of multi-million pound gas and mineral mining schemes which are aiming to exploit reserves buried underground, park chiefs have been warned.

The latest proposed gas project, which is aiming to target a gas field which was mothballed in 1974, is expected to be given the go-ahead by the North York Moors National Park Authority, paving the way for .

Advances in technology and a dramatic rise in the price of gas have prompted the decision to draw up plans to once again extract from gas reserves under Ebberston Moor.

Senior officials from the Campaign for National Parks have maintained, however, that the desire to mine rich gas and mineral reserves across Britain should not be at the expense of the country’s world-famous landscapes.

The organisation’s chairwoman, Anne Robinson, said: “The challenge to protect national parks is escalating, and they are facing up to the biggest threat in their history.

“The extent to which development is now placing national parks under threat is not sustainable.

“These are precious landscapes which have stood the test of time, but the very fabric of the national parks is now in very real danger of being lost.”

Developers from Viking UK Gas Limited have drawn up the proposed scheme for Ebberston Moor, which were due considered by the national park authority’s planning committee today (Thursday).

The company plans to carry out an initial five-year operation to establish the viability of extracting the gas, but has submitted a second planning application which aims to extend the use of the plant for a further 15 years.

It is hoped enough gas could be extracted to power up to 40,000 homes a year - roughly the size of Scarborough.

The national park authority’s head of development management, Mark Hill, said each planning application has to be taken on its own merits. But he stressed that a long-standing government policy test means there is a presumption against major development in a national park.

Mr Hill said:

“The authority is acutely aware that every effort must be taken to ensure that there is not a detrimental effect to landscapes from proposed development. However, this particular scheme has been deemed to be a way of extracting gas in a sensitive manner without having an adverse impact.

“It has to be a balancing act as there is an ever-increasing demand for natural resources while we have to fulfil our role of protecting national parks.”

The proposals follow a separate high-profile scheme by an international mining company, Sirius Minerals, to create a £1bn potash mine on farmland near the village of Sneaton.

The Campaign for National Parks has already urged the Government to instigate a public inquiry into the controversial plans for the potash mine.