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14/03/2014

Create 'frack-free zones' to protect wildlife, urges report

Words: Laura Chubb
Pink-footed geese

"Frack-free zones" should be introduced across Britain  to protect wildlife, says a new report, Are We Fit To Frack?

The research, launched this week by six organisations including the National Trust and the RSPB, warned that fracking posed serious risks to wildlife habitats across the UK, including those of pink-footed geese and salmon.
 
The report cites a dozen National Parks, more than 3,600 Sites of Special Scientific Interest and more than 1,500 wildlife trust sites that should be safeguarded from fracking. 
 
Harry Huyton, head of energy and climate change at the RSPB, told BBC News that there were "risks associated with using lots of water, with causing the accidental contamination of water, but also from the infrastructure that is required by the industry... All of these could have an impact on wildlife".
 
He added: "We would like the country's most special sites to be frack-free. We think that's the reasonable thing to do at the outset of this industry… Why not, from the beginning, say that these areas are out of bounds."
 
Ministers have insisted that fracking is safe and are planning to offer energy companies the opportunity to apply for rights to drill across almost 40,000 square miles of Britain. It is hoped that developing large shale gas resources will bring down energy bills.
 

"We would like the country's most special sites to be frack-free"

 
But Are We Fit To Frack? suggests that 12 per cent of this land comprises protected wildlife areas, nature reserves and National Parks that should be excluded.
 
The process of fracking involves pumping water, sand and chemicals into the ground at high pressure to hydraulically fracture shale rocks and extract the oil and gas trapped within them.
 
Stephen Trotter, director of the Wildlife Trust, has commented that "if there are accidents, or if there are cracks in the pipework, then this can leak out and contaminate lakes and rivers. This has happened in the US, and it's a big concern for the pristine environments that we have here".
 
He added that noise generated by the fracking plants could disturb species such as bats and some migratory birds.
 
But ministers have rejected the idea of a blanket ban on national parks and said local councils should decide whether it was suitable. 
 
Ken Cronin, chief executive of the UK Onshore Operators Group, also said the report contained "a number of critical inaccuracies".
 
He said that fracking already operated under strict regulations to protect the environment, pointing out that the industry "has to comply with 17 European directives, has to apply for up to nine separate environmental permits, and has to reach binding agreements on noise, hours of operation and on other local social issues".
 
The Department for Energy and Climate Change has published a study into shale reserves and their potential impact, which is out for public consultation until 28 March.
 
 

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