THE DALES are facing a potential threat which could ruin tourism and farming, cause massive pollution - and even destroy the area for future generations, according to members of a new Craven organisation.

Fracking - the extraction of shale gas by drilling into the earth with a high pressure mix of water, sand and chemicals - could have drastic consequences for the entire Dales environment, claim members of Frack Free Craven.

The group has been formed to protest against the highly controversial fracking process in the Dales and the north of England.

Britain has huge reserves of shale gas, especially in the north, and energy firms are now starting to apply for licences to drill for it.

Fracking has been going on for several years in the US, Canada and Australia, and has come under heavy fire from environmentalists in those countries.

Applications to drill have recently been made near Blackpool, in Ryedale near York and in the Wakefield area.

And it is only a matter of time before Dales communities could have to deal with applications, members of Frack Free Craven believe.

The group's Lisa Leddicoat said: "I think it really tells a tale when you look at the people who are involved in protests against fracking. I joined a protest in Preston, and I was really surprised at how middle class and middle-aged - and older - these people are.

"Yet the Government has labelled us as 'extremists'. These are not individuals who revel in being subversive. They are normal, decent folk who are concerned - in fact frightened - by what they have seen happening in America, Canada and Australia and don't want it to happen here...We do not want to be troublemakers, we are doing this to protect the things we hold dear - our countryside, homes, health and children, and their future.

"Fracking is simply too risky when we have no idea what the long-term consequences could be. "Once again we see short-term profits being put before the long-term welfare of people and the environment."

Supporters of fracking say that the process has allowed firms to get to difficult-to-reach resources of oil and gas - in the US it has significantly boosted domestic oil production and driven down gas prices.

They also say that it has offered 'gas security' to the US and Canada for about 100 years, and has presented an opportunity to generate electricity at half the carbon dioxide emissions of coal.

In the UK, according to the fracking industry, much of the future energy needs of the country could be met.

Critics, however, say the cost to the environment is too great.

Fracking uses huge amounts of water that has to be transported to the fracking site, usually by lorry, at significant environmental cost.

And, they say, potentially carcinogenic chemicals could escape and contaminate groundwater around the fracking site, with potential consequences that nobody could possibly foresee.

Lisa Leddicoat maintains: "We believe shale gas should simply be left in the ground and much more investment made in renewable energy.

"What has already happened in other countries through fracking has been horrendous.

"There is a huge amount of evidence of pollution from the USA - cattle, pets, land and people are poisoned by escaped fracking water. The photographs of residents able to set light to the water from their taps particularly horrified me.

"Fracking creates air, water, noise and light pollution. It can also create seismic disturbances and cause earth tremors.

"If you think wind turbines are a ‘relentless blight’, imagine having a fracking pad, vibrating and sending up flare-offs, a few hundred metres from your home? Environmentally, there can be massive contamination of the air and ground, noise and pollution from lorries.

"We don't see why fracking should happen anywhere, but especially not in the Dales. The fracking industry likes to play up job creation, but in reality these jobs are so specialised that there are very few, if any, for local people.

"The Government has given the right to companies to frack below people's homes without their permission - they can even frack underneath national parks. That's why we believe there has to be protest wherever a fracking application is made.

"I would say to people, do not be complacent in the belief that it cannot happen in Craven." Applications are already being processed in Ryedale and there is nothing to stop the Yorkshire Dales National Park or the land under your home being drilled – without your knowledge or permission!"

Members of Frack Free Craven, along with activists from political pressure group 38 Degrees, recently attended a rally in Preston where a petition was handed to councillors opposing an application for fracking on the Fylde coast near Blackpool. Councillors turned down the application though it is likely to go to appeal, Lisa said.

"During the planning control committee meeting Lancashire Council’s director of public health was unable to give any assurance that residents’ health would not be impacted.

"Other councillors warned of the 'potential for the industrialisation of the countryside'. Interestingly, the NFU has a new clause in its commercial insurance – it will not insure against anything that happens as a result of fracking!"

Frack Free Craven will be leafleting in Skipton town centre on Saturday and Sunday.