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'Fracking Tories' have now reserved for themselves the right to frack anywhere they want - if they win the election! Photo: Teacher Dude via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0).
'Fracking Tories' have now reserved for themselves the right to frack anywhere they want - if they win the election! Photo: Teacher Dude via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0).
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Government reneges on 'no fracking' promise

Oliver Tickell

5th February 2015

The latest version of the Infrastructure Bill released today has been amended to avoid defining the areas that will be protected from fracking, leaving that to 'regulations' to be pushed through after the general election. So if the Tories win, get ready for fracking everywhere!

So now we know - if the Tories win the election, we can expect 'fracking everywhere' - national parks, groundwater zones, nature sites, whatever. Nowhere will be safe.

The Government has reneged on its commitments to ban fracking near drinking water zones by amending the Infrastructure Bill at its final stage in the House of Lords today.

The change is contained in a sneaky loophole that most politicans entirely missed - but was spotted by an alert Friends of the Earth campaigner.

Most of the wording of Labour's amendments, which prohibited fracking in national parks, Sites of Special Scientific Interest, 'groundwater source protection areas' and 'areas of outstanding natural beauty', remain in the current version of the Bill, Section 4A.

But instead of specifying the designations of the areas that fall under protection, the Government is leaving that to be set out in regulations by a Statutory Instrument to be issued by the Secretary of State before July 2015 - well after the general election, due in May.

This gives the Government the opportunity to weaken or fudge the definitions to the point where the protections become a dead letter - and it's hard to see any other reason for legislating in this convoluted way.

Broken promises

Reacting to the Government's late amendment, Friends of the Earth's Energy Campaigner Donna Hume, who first spotted the loophole, said: "The Government has U-Turned on its commitment to enforce regulatory conditions that would have introduced common sense measures to protect drinking water from controversial fracking.

"The Government seems determined to make fracking happen whatever the cost and people will be staggered that risky fracking will be allowed in areas that provide one third of our drinking water.

"Ministers must follow the lead of Wales, Scotland, France, Bulgaria, the Netherlands and New York State by putting a stop to fracking and instead focus on renewables and cutting energy waste." 

In the Commons, the Government accepted the Labour Party amendment that banned fracking within groundwater source protection zones 1-3; the area around aquifers that safeguards drinking water. These collectively cover some 15% of the country - including many areas with potentially oil and gas bearing rock.

There's only one answer now - defeat the Tories!

The 'supplementary provisions' in Section 4B specify that the Secretary of State must, in the statutory instrument, specify the descriptions of areas which are 'protected groundwater source areas, and 'other protected areas' for the purposes of section 4A.

The statutory instrument will have to be laid before both the Commons and the Lords, and approved by a vote in each house. But if the Conservatives are re-elected with an overall majority in the May elections, they could in effect nullify the protections altogether.

Labour's shadow energy minister Tom Greatrex stated last week that in return for the support of Labour MPs for the Infrastructure Bill as a whole, and for not pressing the demands for a fracking moratorium, demanded by the Environmental Audit Committee, the details of its amendment were not up for further negotiation:

"Let me make it absolutely clear that our new clause is all or nothing; it cannot be cherry-picked", he said. "All the conditions need to be in place before we can be absolutely confident that any shale extraction can happen."

But as the Bill will not return to the Commons, and the Conservatives enjoy an overall majority in the Lords, there is in fact nothing at all that Greatrex or his Labour colleagues can do about it.

So now we know - if the Tories win the election, we can expect 'fracking everywhere' - national parks, groundwater zones, nature sites, whatever. Nowhere will be safe.

 


 

Oliver Tickell edits The Ecologist.

 

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