The green light to resume fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, could prompt a ‘tremor’ of legal disputes, a leading South West lawyer has claimed.
Battens Chairman David Stephens said opponents of the process were likely to turn to the planning system to object to any proposals put forward by energy companies.
His comments follow a government announcement that fracking, which had been suspended for 18 months after earth tremors were felt at a scheme near Blackpool, could restart subject to new controls aimed at reducing environmental risk.
Fracking is so-called because it creates fractures in underground rocks when fluid and chemicals are injected into cracks, allowing gas to be extracted.
While it can boost productivity, opponents point to potential gas leaks, tremors and seepage of toxins into water tables, all risking damage to the countryside and reducing property values.
Mr Stephens said Dorset and Somerset could be increasingly in the frame for future fracking applications due to the presence of shale gas in their geological make-up.
He said: "Planning permission is required before any fracking can take place and a licence is needed from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).
"Permission will of course only be sought where, geologically, fracking is likely to yield results.
"In the South West there is a zigzag belt from Minehead to Lyme Regis which makes Somerset, Devon and Dorset all potential targets. The government’s green light could therefore open the doors for fresh planning applications and legal disputes."
Local authorities act as mineral planning authorities when it comes to decisions on planning permission.
Although Somerset and Dorset county councils report no fracking applications registered as yet, Bath & North East Somerset Council have received an application asking for permission to test land at Durley Hill, near Keynsham, to see if the land is suitable for gas extraction.
In Bath itself, public disquiet has already surfaced over fears that fracking close to the city could harm its world famous hot springs.
Council leaders have expressed concern that any moves to drill could damage the water courses that supply the springs and say they are keeping a close eye on the whole fracking issue.
"We can expect the issue to run and run," said Mr Stephens.
"The limited experience to date indicates applications will generally be viewed favourably by planning authorities but permission is not inevitable.
"In the new planning environment of Localism, effective local opposition can ensure tight conditions or even refusal of consent.
"This means marshalling the considerable body of scientific evidence, presenting it in terms which will be most persuasive to planning authorities and, crucially, making it relevant to local circumstances whether you are applying for or opposing such developments."
Article reproduced thanks to kind permission from Battens Solicitors http://www.battens.co.uk/