LONDON (Reuters) - Environmental group Greenpeace said it would encourage British landowners to join together in legally opposing fracking, a move that could strengthen the opposition to exploration and development for shale oil and gas.
Protests against fracking in Britain have so far been local, involving marches and attempts to disrupt activities of oil and gas companies. Greenpeace called for a group legal action across the country, involving thousands of people.
Under English law, companies need permission from landowners to drill under their land to avoid being held liable for trespass, Greenpeace said. It said it wanted landowners to object to fracking and create a "legal block".
"This case (the legal block) is about people explicitly declaring they do not give that permission. This will make it extremely difficult for companies to move ahead," Greenpeace senior campaigner Anna Jones said in a statement on Monday.
"Whether we'll do that as a class action or not, there's no decision on that yet," a Greenpeace spokeswoman said.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves the pumping of water and chemicals into dense shale formations to push out gas and oil. Environmental campaigners object that it can pollute water supplies and cause earthquakes.
In August, shale explorer Cuadrilla Resources was forced to temporarily suspend its activities at Balcombe, a site in southern England, due to threats from protesters opposed to fracking.
Greenpeace's proposed "legal block" at this stage does not appear to be a "substantive legal challenge", said Caroline May, head of environment, safety and planning at law firm Norton Rose Fulbright.
"It depends on whether a landowner's land is affected and they continue to maintain their objections, notwithstanding any compensation that may be offered to them," she said.
The British government favours development of shale reserves to help reverse a rising dependency on energy imports.
The British Geological Survey estimated in June that the north of England could hold 1,300 trillion cubic feet of shale gas resources, of which typically 10 to 15 percent is recoverable. Britain's gas consumption last year amounted to 2.76 trillion cubic feet, according to BP
Unlike in the United States where private landowners receive royalties from shale gas production, in Britain mineral rights belong to the Crown, a fact that helps explain the greater opposition to fracking by local British communities.
Reporting by Sarah Young; editing by Jane Baird