The vote on the Government’s Draft Onshore Hydraulic Fracturing (Protected Areas) Regulations 2015 could see fracking allowed beneath National Parks, Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), Groundwater Protection Zones, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) and World Heritage sites. This could expose many of the UK’s most fragile and treasured landscapes to noise, air and light pollution, resulting from fracking rigs being situated around the edges of protected areas, in order to drill down and then horizontally across to access the shale gas reserves beneath.
Just 18 MPs have debated the proposals, in a Delegated Legislation Committee on 27 October. Tomorrow’s vote will not allow for a debate in the House of Commons. [The regulations have been scheduled for a vote in the House tonight (Tuesday 15th December), but it is widely expected they will be deferred for a vote by the House tomorrow lunchtime (Wednesday 16th December).]
Greenpeace Energy Campaigner, Hannah Martin, warned the Government was ‘trying to pull a fast one through an arcane parliamentary process’ in a move which would see Britain’s protected areas ‘fracked in all but name.’
The Government had previously committed to an ‘outright ban’ on fracking in National Parks, AONBs and SSSIs. However, the latest regulations attempt to sidestep this by allowing underground drilling in the fissures deep below protected areas. This could lead to thousands of lorry movements to transport equipment and fluids, noise from compressors, and 24 hour floodlighting around the perimeters of these areas – causing pollution to spill over into Britain’s most precious countryside.
SSSIs are conservation areas for wildlife and rare plants. There are around 4,000 in the UK, protecting 8% of land. There are 15 National Parks in England, Scotland and Wales, covering 22,658 square kilometres: more than a tenth of the area of Great Britain.
Greenpeace estimates that 300 square kilometres of the North York Moors, 75 square kilometres of the Peak District and smaller areas of the South Downs could become open to fracking after government consultation.
Hannah Martin, Energy Campaigner at Greenpeace, said:
‘It’s not even a year since the government promised to ban fracking in National Parks. Now it’s trying to pull a fast one through an arcane parliamentary process by hawking out the land beneath our most beautiful landscapes to let fracking companies drill sideways deep beneath them. It’s not only disingenuous, but it’s damaging for our countryside and it’s damaging for the environment.
‘Our so-called protected areas, including World Heritage Sites and National Parks, could end up fracked in all but name: flanked by drilling rigs, flares and heavy lorries which pollute the air and the land, as well as threaten groundwater sources. Fracking won’t cut bills for people. It’s unlikely to bring new jobs for local residents. And it could knock down the value of families’ homes and damage tourism in areas which depend on it.
‘Blindly ignoring the potential of renewable energy while pushing gas and nuclear just defies economic and environmental sense: and that’s even starker when it comes at the cost of our most fragile and treasured landscapes.’
For more information please contact Luke Massey on firstname.lastname@example.org or 07973873155
Notes to editors
The vote is scheduled for today (Tuesday 15 December) but is widely expected to be deferred to tomorrow lunchtime (Wednesday 16 December).
The regulations state fracking would be allowed under National Parks and other protected areas – as long as it involves drilling sideways from outside the protected area. These maps shows where might be affected:
● http://cdb.io/1FPJhb1 - (AONBs and National Parks)
● http://cdb.io/1FPDRN5 - (SSSIs)
In July 2015, the Government published draft regulations, under section 4B(5) of the Petroleum Act 1998, which allow underground fracking activities to take place beneath National Parks, Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs), Wildlife Trust nature reserves, RSPB reserves and World Heritage Sites. The regulations also allow underground fracking activities to take place below all drinking water protection zones. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/id/ukdsi/2015/9780111137932
This is despite the Government’s earlier commitment in January 2015 of an ‘outright ban’ on fracking in National Parks, SSSI and AONB. In February 2015, within the Infrastructure Act, the Government also confirmed ‘hydraulic fracturing will not take place within protected groundwater source areas’.
The Government’s report into the impacts of fracking was brought to light by Greenpeace after the Government failed to make it publicly available. The report also highlights concerns about what happens to local economies after the fracking companies leave. In case local people were thinking of working in the fracking industry, there is also uncertainty over “how sustainable the shale gas investments will be in the future and whether rural communities have the right mix of skills to take advantage of the new jobs and wider benefits on offer”.