A FRACKING firm has refused to be drawn on whether it will carry out exploratory drilling near the country home of David Cameron’s father-in-law.

Dart Energy, which has a petroleum exploration licence for west York, has said there are no plans to frack under York Minster.

But it has been less forthcoming about whether it would consider exploratory drilling near Sutton Park, the home of the Prime Minister’s father-in-law, Sir Reginald Sheffield.

The exploration licence granted to Dart by the Department for Energy and Climate Change cuts right through central York – very close to the Minster.

It also stretches as far north as Sutton Park.

Dart spokesman Peter Reilly said the company had no plans to frack beneath the Minster, or anywhere else under York.

Seismic data would be used to determine likely spots to find underground hydrocarbon resources within the licence area, Mr Reilly said. In theory, there would be no geological reason to prevent drilling in a city.

York Press: Fracking map
A map showing the Dart Energy licence area lined in red.

“However, there are plenty of surface reasons that may make it impossible. Examples might be no available or suitable land to access, significant buildings such as York Minster and other environmental considerations.

“In the case of York, not enough is known to determine whether that particular area of the licence is prospective for hydrocarbons (leaving aside the surface issues noted above) so Dart is not planning to drill there.”

But asked specifically whether there could be drilling near Sutton Park, he said: “Whatever we might say... could (and in my experience will) be taken out of context and abused, so we may choose in the end to remain silent on that question.”

Downing Street also declined to comment, although Mr Cameron is known to be strongly pro-fracking.

Mr Reilly said if any exploratory drilling took place near York, any contaminated water resulting from the operation would be treated to remove contaminants then disposed of in accordance with permits agreed by the Environment Agency. “If there is no water solution, then a development may not be possible,” he said.

But Peter Brown, of the York Civic Trust, said he remained concerned about what might be done with contaminated water.

“The drilling slurry contains many toxins, some carcinogenic, which get washed out in a saline solution,” he said. “What to do with this liquid is the biggest question.

“Pumping into the Ouse or Foss is not an option.”

John Cossham, of Frack Free York, said whatever measures were taken to protect the water table, contamination of an aquifer was always a statistical possibility.

At a meeting in York, Dart had been asked what they would do if that happened, he said.

“There was an ominous silence. Because there isn’t anything they could do. If they contaminate an aquifer, that’s that.”

• York and North Yorkshire councils are consulting on their joint waste and minerals plan, which covers fracking. To have your say visit: northyorks.gov.uk/article/28531/Consultation-opens-on-minerals-and-waste-plan