There are lots of reassuring words from the Government on fracking and protected areas but, so far, precious little in the way of meaningful action.
Make the Government keep its promises on fracking
We at CPRE, alongside other organisations such as RSPB, the Campaign for National Parks and the Wildlife Trusts, are increasingly concerned that the hard-won concessions from the Government on putting in place additional protections for the most precious parts of our countryside are turning out to be nothing more than smoke and mirrors.
We’d like to see strengthening of the controls on shale gas and oil in the rest of our countryside too of course, but at least we thought protected areas would be less exposed to fracking and its risks. This is why we’re supporting RSPB’s e-action to ensure the Government sticks to its promise to ban fracking in all protected areas and are urging people to sign-up. To honour previous commitments, we want the Government to urgently introduce measures to prevent drilling rigs for fracking from being sited in protected areas, and to include Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) in its definition of protected areas. Please sign up to the e-action.
Back in January this year during the parliamentary debate on what is now the Infrastructure Act 2015, Amber Rudd, then energy minister and now Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, promised an outright ban on fracking in protected areas that would include National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) and Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs). This commitment was confirmed in a statement from the Government, which also confirmed an additional requirement in the Act relating to shale gas and climate change.
In July, the Government published draft regulations that define protected areas. The definition includes National Parks, AONBs, the Broads and World Heritage Sites, but excludes SSSIs, thereby breaking Amber Rudd’s previous promise. The Government says that including SSSIs would have an adverse effect on the development of the shale gas industry. The regulations do rule out fracking in the defined protected areas as long as it's deeper than 1200m, but it’s unlikely that companies would have wanted to frack above this depth anyway. Again, the Government’s focus seems to be on not constraining fracking companies rather than protecting the most special parts of our countryside.
In a further unwelcome development, the regulations are silent on excluding wells and other infrastructure used for fracking from protected areas, which we see as essential. When the draft regulations were published, ministers made a commitment to ensure that fracking cannot be conducted from wells that are drilled in the surface of National Parks and other protected areas. But more than two months on, there is still no clarity on how or when this latest commitment will be fulfilled in practice.
It’s true that even if the Government sticks to this latest promise, allowing drilling just outside National Parks, AONBs and SSSIs and other protected areas will still incur visual, noise and other environmental impacts that would seriously affect their quality and character. But we see excluding fracking infrastructure from these areas as a bare minimum, so please sign the e-action to hold the Government to its word.
Find out more
Shale developments to be banned in all UK national parks
www.gov.uk, 27 January 2015
Government defines Protected Areas for shale developments
www.gov.uk, 16 July 2015