POLICE will meet anti-fracking campaigners tonight (23) over the prospect of protests against drilling in Harthill.
It follows the news that chemicals firm Ineos has submitted a planning application for an exploratory test well.
South Yorkshire Police set up the meeting to allow the public to meet the officers who will be responsible at any future protests.
It will include a Q&A session and a presentation on how the force manages protests to help campaigners and the force “work together”.
Chief Supt Rob Odell, Rotherham district commander, said: “The anti-fracking group are an identified bunch of people with legitimate concerns.
“Protest is not inevitable, but our best practice would suggest in these circumstances, the sooner you can engage with any group, the better the relationship will be.
“These are normal folk used to normal community policing and might not know the role of a protest liaison officer, for example.
“We’ve looked at best practice across the country, such as where there are fracking operations in North Yorkshire and Lancashire. A clear lesson learned is that the more information you can put up front, the better.”
The application from Ineos — the first of its kind in Rotherham — is for an area of private land off Common Road.
Harthill Against Fracking member Deborah Gibson said: “As far as we can see, Ineos are asking to drill in the middle of an actively arable field, in the middle of a green belt area, on a site that has an underwater river, very close to a geological fault that runs through Harthill, next to our listed church.
“They wish to conduct anywhere between 28 and 70\!q heavy goods vehicle movements per day, depending on which Ineos spokesperson is speaking, along narrow country lanes bordered by 700-year-old hedges full of flora and fauna next to woodland, all overlooked by people’s homes.
“This is not to mention the diesel pollution from traffic and 24/7 generators, and that’s before they even start drilling.”
Ineos holds a licence for extracting shale gas from underground. The process of fracking involves injecting water and chemicals at high pressure into tiny cracks so gas can flow upwards and be collected.
Rotherham Council's strategic director of regeneration and environment, Damien Wilson, said: “This is a planning application to carry out underground investigations, not fracking.
“As with any planning application and in our role as the mineral planning authority, we will carry out detailed consultation and find out what people think of the proposals. This includes local people and the organisations we have to consult by law.
“We have not received an application to carry out fracking. If and when we do, it would be a separate planning application and subject to a similar but separate detailed consultation with the public and other consultees.”
Ineos shale operations director Tom Pickering said: “The test well is an another important step in helping us understand the local geology.
“I am keen and willing to continue our engagement with the community through a formal community liaison group.”
The council’s public consultation closes on July 21 and the application is expected to be heard by Rotherham’s planning board.
The police meeting takes place at Harthill Village Hall at 7.30pm.