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Earth tremors, fracking licences and the Infrastructure Act

Preese Hall, Weeton, Preston Preese Hall, Weeton, Preston Preese Hall, Weeton, Preston Preese Hall, Weeton, Preston Photo: © CPRE

The Government halted all onshore fracking operations in 2011 over concerns at earth tremors after fracking at the Preese Hall site in Lancashire, which were attributed to Cuadrilla’s operations there.

In 2012 the Royal Society and Academy of Engineering’s review concluded that shale gas extraction could be managed safely in the UK if best practice in implementation and enforcement of regulatory safeguards was followed. Since that review, the Government has approved the resumption of activity.

New licences for onshore oil and gas

Given the significant uncertainties about the impacts of shale oil and gas exploration and production, we called for areas that are nationally and internationally protected for their ecology, landscape and heritage to be excluded from licencing. Following the completion of the Government’s Strategic Environmental Assessment process, in July 2014 the Government announced that over half of the country is now available for companies to apply for licences to develop shale gas and oil. The Government announcement also highlighted greater protection for National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) and World Heritage Sites (WHSs), including updated planning guidance clarifying that there should be no shale oil or gas developments in these areas except in exceptional circumstances and where the public benefit can be clearly demonstrated. This is a step in the right direction, but we believe the Government should go further to protect these areas.   

The Government’s emphasis on the need to strengthen protections for National Parks, AONBs and WHSs represented a welcome change in rhetoric from the Government. Previously it had given the impression that it was committed to onshore oil and gas exploration whatever the consequences and however sensitive the location. However, we previously called for areas that are nationally and internationally protected for their ecology, landscape and heritage – including Sites of Special Scientific Interest − to be completely excluded from licencling. More generally, if fracking is to happen anywhere, we believe that we need to proceed with great caution and with the highest possible safeguards.

Planning applications for shale gas and oil

A small number of planning applications to explore for shale gas and oil have been made, including for sites in Sussex and Lancashire.

Anti-fracking protests have taken place in Balcome in the High Weald AONB in West Sussex, where one company, Cuadrilla, has been given permission to carry out exploration using conventional techniques, rather than fracking. Two other applications for exploration by Celtique Energy  – at Wisborough Green, just outside the South Downs National Park, and at Fernhurst in the National Park were turned down. The former mainly because of concerns about disruption from lorries to and from the site; the latter because the necessary exceptional circumstances to justify drilling within the National Park could not be demonstrated.

We helped secure more time for responses to the applications by Cuadrilla for planning permission and environmental permits for exploratory drilling, including fracking, at two sites in Lancashire (Roseacre Wood and Little Plumpton). The consultation closed in September 2014 and CPRE Lancashire responded to both.

Infrastructure Act

The Coalition Government consulted on changing trespass law to allow drilling under property for the purpose of extracting shale gas or oil without the owner’s consent. Despite significant opposition expressed in response to the consultation, the Government has made this change through the Infrastructure Act. Given the major uncertainties about the impacts of fracking, we believe that the Government should focus on strengthening regulation to take account of legitimate concerns rather than removing barriers for companies.

We pushed for changes to the Act that would have strengthened safeguards for the countryside and communities. While we won some concessions from the Government, such as a ban on fracking sites in protected areas such as National Parks, we are disappointed and concerned that the Government went back on commitments it had previously agreed to. For example the Government agreed to ban fracking under protected areas and specifically require Environmental Impact Assessments in the legislation, only to backtrack and take these requirements out of the legislation just before it was finalised.

Find out more

Infrastructure Bill - Briefing for Second Reading in the House of Commons
News release: Concern at u-turn on fracking protections in Infrastructure Bill
Infrastructure Bill – CPRE briefing for the House of Commons Report Stage
Infrastructure Bill - Briefing for final debate in the House of Commons
External link CPRE Sussex: fracking
External link CPRE Lancashire: Two fracking sites in Lancashire announced
External link CPRE Lancashire submits comments on fracking planning application

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