The government is proposing to ban fracking from the surface of England’s best natural and landscape areas. Details here
The ban would apply in new and existing licences. It would cover wildlife areas, such as Sites of Special Scientific Interest, as well as designated landscapes, such as National Parks.
Fracking would still be allowed beneath these areas under regulations discussed by MPs last week.
The Government is not proposing to bring in new legislation. It said this afternoon it would include a condition in new licences and issue a policy statement for existing licences.
The proposals do not apply to conventional oil and gas operations. Nor do they apply to unconventional operations which do not use high volume hydraulic fracturing. A six-week consultation is now underway.
The RSPB described the proposals as a first step towards protecting some of England most important sites for wildlife from fracking.Friends of the Earth accused the government of fudging plans to protect drinking water aquifers and national parks.
Greenpeace said the proposals wouldn’t stop fracking on the edge of the country’s “most fragile and treasured countryside”. Hannah Martin, Greenpeace’s energy campaigner said:
“Some of England’s special scenery and nature reserves could still be ringed by fracking rigs bringing light, air, water and noise pollution to areas that should be completely protected.”
The proposals apply only to England and cover:
- National Parks and the Broads
- Areas for Outstanding Natural Beauty
- World Heritage Sites
- Groundwater Source Protection Zones 1
- Sites of Special Scientific Interest
- Natura 2000 sites designated under the habitats directive. (Special Areas of Conservation and Special Protection Areas)
- Ramsar sites (wetland sites of international importance)
Launching the consultation, the Energy Minister, Andrea Leadsom, said:
“We have the right protections in place to ensure that fracking can go ahead safely without risk to our most beautiful and important natural sites.”
The consultation document said:
“The Government is seeking to ensure that surface activities associated with hydraulic fracturing will not occur in specified protected areas. “
For areas licensed under the new 14th onshore round, the government said: “This would be delivered through the inclusion of a licence condition in new Petroleum Exploration and Development Licences (PEDLs).”
For existing licence areas, the government said a policy statement would indicate that the Secretary of State “is not minded to grant consent” for any programme which includes hydraulic fracturing.
The government said enforcement would be through checks carried out under the work programme “on an individual basis”.
The consultation asks about the impacts of the ban on new and existing licence holders. It also asks whether existing regulation offers enough protection. The consultation closes on 16th December 2015.
A vote by the House of Commons on the regulations dealing with drilling under protected areas had been expected this week. No date has yet been set for it.
Martin Harper, RSPB’s Conservation Director, said:
“We are very pleased the Government has indicated it intends to ban fracking in England’s best places for wildlife, Sites of Special Scientific Interest. It’s also good to see this ban extended to Natura 2000 sites – areas that are important for wildlife at a European level. We welcome the fact that the ban could apply to all existing and future licences for fracking.
“Government still intends to permit fracking beneath these sites, which we don’t think is sensible. The wider regulatory regime around fracking could still be improved and we have yet to see a compelling case that fracking is going to be compatible with the UK’s legally binding climate change commitments. But the announcement of today’s consultation is the first step towards protecting some of England most important sites for wildlife from fracking.”
Friends of the Earth’s energy campaigner Rose Dickinson said:
“While ruling out the frankly ludicrous idea of fracking straight through drinking water aquifers, Government plans will still allow fracking in protected areas that surround and feed these aquifers with water.
“The public has made it clear that they don’t want fracking to take place in national parks and wildlife sites – allowing it directly beneath these areas will further undermine public confidence in the Government on this issue.
“It is time for the Government to follow in the footsteps of Scotland and Wales by halting all plans for fracking – which is completely incompatible with tackling climate change.”
Hannah Martin, of Greenpeace, said:
“The government has delayed a vote in the House of Commons that was expected today on the regulations that allow fracking to take place under National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and World Heritage Sites.”
“Greenpeace believes the vote is now expected in the coming weeks, but the government will not be drawn on when and is still refusing a full debate. This is furthering accusations that the government is pushing the regulations through the parliamentary process hastily and without scrutiny.”
“People who love and live in the spectacular countryside and nature near the Peak District, the North York Moors, the South Downs, and who care about climate change will not stand for a government which is only listening to the fracking industry lobbyists, and riding roughshod over local wishes to industrialise our most beautiful scenery and damage the climate.”
Government’s fracking regulations ‘unlawful’ – QC
A senior lawyer consulted by Friends of the Earth has said government regulations covering fracking below protected areas were unlawful.
In a written legal opinion, David Wolfe QC said the regulations, currently before parliament, were inconsistent with government statements and existing legislation.
He said they “undermine and are inconsistent” with the Infrastructure Act, which became law in February. They have no practical impact, he added, and “could not be said properly to implement the parliamentary intention”. He added: “Parliament does not legislate in vain”
The Draft Onshore Hydraulic Fracturing (Protected Areas) Regulations 2015, approved by a committee of MPs last Tuesday, provide definitions of “protected areas” referred to in the Infrastructure Act. They cover National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and World Heritage Sites but not the other protected areas mentioned in today’s consultation.