Twelve licences have been issued to energy companies exploring for new ‘extreme’ natural gas sites across the Midlands, it has emerged, with drilling taking place in at least two locations in Staffordshire.
Permission to drill in deep boreholes for coal bed methane has been issued at Brancote Sewage Treatment Works near Stafford and Gorse Lane in Fradley near Lichfield.
Sites at Swynnerton and Spot Grange Farm near Stone and another in Penkridge also have permission, while two other areas in Tittensor have had permission lapse with no work undertaken.
It comes as protest groups have been set up in Birmingham against extraction sites.
Coal bed methane is a form of natural gas trapped in underground coal seams, and its extraction method is claimed by campaigners to be as environmentally damaging as the contentious use of ‘fracking’.
Along with shale gas, it is condemned as an ‘extreme energy’ source.
It comes after a week of high-profile anti-fracking protests which saw activists storm the Lichfield headquarters of energy firm Cuadrilla, which has sparked a public outcry over its shale gas exploration site in Balcombe, West Sussex. Demonstrators broke into offices and chained themselves to filing cabinets. Police forcibly removed them and arrested a 36-year-old woman from Middlesex.
Green Party MP Caroline Lucas was arrested alongside 30 others during clashes with police in Balcombe.
Hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, is used to extract trapped gas by drilling and injecting fluid into the ground at a high pressure in order to fracture shale rocks.
Opponents say it is linked to causing earthquakes and causes environmental pollution and damage. There is no permission to use fracking in the Midlands but the techniques used to extract coal bed methane pose equally dangerous consequences, it is claimed.
New protest groups have been formed in Birmingham – called Gasfield-free Birmingham and Frack-free Birmingham – amid concerns over coal bed methane extraction sites in the green belt.
A statement released by the campaign Frack Off said: “There are a similar catalogue of negative environmental and social effects as with shale gas.
“This includes methane migration, water contamination, air pollution, increased carbon emissions and a general industrialisation of countryside.
“Impacts specific to coal bed methane include depletion of the water table and potentially subsidence.
“In common with other unconventional gas extraction, such as shale gas, coal bed methane wells do not produce large amounts of gas per well and production declines very quickly.
“It is necessary to drill large numbers of wells, covering a huge swathe of the landscape.”
Staffordshire County Council confirmed there was no permission for companies to use fracking. It said use of the technique would require special planning permission from the Government, the council and the Health and Safety Executive.