The government has reversed its decision to accept new fracking restrictions, announcing that fracking will be allowed to take place beneath national parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Ministers have been accused of watering down their commitment to ban controversial shale gas exploration in protected areas
The Independent reports: Energy companies will not be allowed to base their fracking operations on the ground within the protected zones but instead will be able to station their drilling rigs just outside and then drill horizontally underneath them.
Preventing fracking beneath such areas would not be “practical” and would “unduly constrain” fracking firms, Amber Rudd, the energy minister said.
Fracking typically involves drilling more than a mile down and then horizontally, potentially for more than a mile and a half.
Labour warned the change could allow protected areas to become surrounded on all sides by fracking operations.
On January 26 ministers saw off a rebellion over fracking by agreeing to a Labour amendment introducing new red tape on shale gas companies and introducing a ban on “fracking within or under protected areas”.
Ms Rudd told MPs at the time: “We have agreed an outright ban on fracking in national parks, sites of special scientific interest and areas of outstanding natural beauty.”
But on Wednesday night she said: “There is a strong case that sites such as World Heritage sites and the Norfolk Broads should be protected from fracking taking place under them. In other cases, that would not be so sensible.
“For example, in the case of areas of outstanding natural beauty and national parks, given their size and dispersion, it might not be practical to guarantee that fracking will not take place under them in all cases without unduly constraining the industry.”
Precise details of the policy will be drawn up in secondary legislation, she said.