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Government launches fracking consultation

Words: Laura Edgar
Fracking / iStock_000022131270

Environmental organisations have reacted to a government consultation on fracking.

Friends of the Earth said that the government has “failed adequately to protect our drinking water sources from the risks” while the RSPB doesn’t think it is sensible for the government to permit fracking beneath Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs).

Launched yesterday (4 November), Surface Development Restrictions for Hydraulic Fracturing details the proposals for fracking in specified protected areas, which will apply to England only, with the relevant powers being devolved to the Scottish and Welsh governments.

Under consultation are proposals to ensure that “surface activities associated with hydraulic fracturing will not occur in specified protected areas”.

The government proposes to apply surface restrictions to protected groundwater source areas as defined in the Onshore Hydraulic Fracturing (Protected Areas) Regulations 2015, according to the consultation document.

Surface restrictions will also apply to:

  • National parks, the broads and areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONB)

  • World heritage sites

  • Source Protection Zones 1 – the areas close to a drinking water source where the risk associated with groundwater contamination is at its greatest

  • SSSIs

  • Natura 2000 - an EU-wide network of nature protection areas established under the 1992 Habitats Directive10 in order to protect biodiversity.

  • Ramsar sites - areas designated as Wetlands of International Importance in accordance with the Ramsar Convention.

The proposals, the document states, “will not apply to drilling for conventional hydrocarbon resources, which has been conducted safely for decades, including, for example, in National Parks and AONBs. This is a well-established industry and existing evidence shows that it can comply with the strict requirements that are already in place for protected areas”.

Energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth, Rose Dickinson, said: “The government has completely fudged plans to protect our drinking water aquifers and national parks.

“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.

“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.”

Greenpeace campaigner Hannah Martin said while the government might have banned drilling rigs from littering the landscape, it isn’t banning fracking pollution spilling over into our most fragile and treasured countryside.

“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. This seems like a statement designed simply to mollify concerned backbenchers but lacking the substance to actually protect the countryside from fracking pollution,” she said.

On the other hand, Martin Harper, conservation director at the RSPB, has welcomed the government’s intention to protect SSSIs.

“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.”

Having said that, Harper said the wider regulatory regime around fracking could still be improved.

“We await 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.”

The full consultation document can be viewed here (pdf).