THE Isle of Wight's Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty could be explored for shale gas, following the government's latest fracking announcement.
Energy companies have been invited to bid for a new round of fracking licences covering more than half the country, opening up huge swathes of the countryside to shale gas exploration.
The IW Council's executive member for planning, Cllr Jonathan Bacon, said the authority was opposed to fracking and expressed concern licences could be granted for the whole Island.
Those who oppose fracking, which involves blasting water, chemicals and sand at high pressure into shale rock to release shale gas, have warned it could harm the environment and contaminate water supplies, but those who support it say unlocking shale gas will provide greater energy security.
The government said fracking would be permitted in beauty spots, including National Parks and AONBs, if it was in the public interest and there were exceptional circumstances — a caveat welcomed by the National Trust, which has warned against turning the country's beauty spots over to the 'industrial scale extraction of shale gas and oil.'
Cllr Bacon said: "While it is not possible for the council to refuse to consider fracking applications, the council has robust policies to deal with applications, and is also undertaking a review of these policies to ensure they give the greatest possible protection to the Island.
"The Island has a complex geology and has to rely in part on the importation of water. We therefore need to ensure maximum protection of the Island’s aquifers. There is also the issue of the vulnerability of our long coastline, as evidenced by significant recent landslips.
"It is of fundamental importance that any industrial process with the known potential for environmental impacts must be subject to exacting scientific proof that such adverse impacts could be controlled."
To date, the council has not received any fracking applications.