Sun breaking through the clouds over the Derwent Valley, Peak District, UK with the village of Hatersage in the distance. Photo: Richard Walker via Flickr (CC BY).
Fracking go-ahead in England's national parks, SSSIs, water sources
Kyla Mandel & Oliver Tickell
16th December 2015
New regulations that will allow fracking under national parks, water sources and nature sites won the approval of MPs today in a Commons vote, write Kyla Mandel & Oliver Tickell, even though four Tory MP's rebelled against the party whip. But the new rules won't apply in Wales and Scotland.
While people up and down the country have successfully stopped this unwanted and dirty technology for more than four years, the Government has been busy weakening regulations and changing the rules.
Fracking for shale gas will now be allowed below national parks and other protected sites including groundwater protection zones as the government goes back on its pledge to not do so.
MPs voted 298 to 261 on Wednesday in favour of new regulations to allow shale gas extraction 1,200m below these protected areas. This comes after it agreed an "outright ban" on fracking in these areas last January.
Four Conservative MPs rebelled against the Government in today's Commons vote, including London mayoral candidate, environmental campaigner and former Ecologist editor Zac Goldsmith, MP for Richmond in West London.
Shadow energy secretary Lisa Nandy accused ministers of using a "parliamentary backdoor" to try to approve the "weak regulations" without debate, adding: "Fracking should not go ahead in Britain until stronger safeguards are in place to protect drinking water sources and sensitive parts of our countryside like national parks.
"We should have a moratorium on fracking in Britain until we can be sure it is safe and won't present intolerable risks to our environment."
The Liberal Democrat leader, Tim Farron, added: "The government's decision to sneak through a huge change to allow fracking in our national parks without a proper debate is outrageous. They have shown their true colours and complete lack of regard for protecting some of the most beautiful scenery in the UK and its wildlife."
Drinking water at risk
Rose Dickinson of Friends of the Earth also condemned the move: "This just goes to show that we really can't trust the Government on fracking, and the only way to protect people and the environment is to make sure the UK stays frack free.
"Yet again, the Government has revealed that it is firmly on the side of the fracking industry, and willing to do anything to get it off the ground. While people up and down the country have successfully stopped this unwanted and dirty technology for more than four years, the Government has been busy weakening regulations and changing the rules."
"To allow fracking in the areas supplying drinking water aquifers simply goes against common sense", continued Dickinson. "When he was chair of the Environment Agency, Chris Smith said groundwater contamination is the 'biggest environmental risk' of fracking. What's more, these new plans were revealed just after the publication of the Government's own draft report - which it tried to cover up."
"While we didn't stop them, we did get the Government to drop its ludicrous plans to allow fracking directly through drinking water aquifers. But the new rules mean that although the Government admits fracking poses risks to water, it has failed to adequately protect it."
According to the government's draft report, "There is a risk that even if contaminated surface water does not directly impact drinking water supplies, it can affect human health indirectly through consumption of contaminated wildlife, livestock or agricultural products."
Industrialisation of treasured landscapes
Hannah Martin, Energy Campaigner at Greenpeace, said: "What we have seen today is the Government breaking its promise and forcing through regulations which will allow fracking underneath some of the most fragile and treasured landscapes in Britain. These areas have been protected for a reason: stunning areas like the Peak District, the North York Moors and the South Downs.
"As a result of today's vote, these places can now be fracked in all but name. Whether the fracking infrastructure is set up just outside the boundaries of national parks is a moot point. These previously protected areas could be ringed by drilling rigs, floodlights and compressors - and play host to thousands of lorry movements - meaning the most precious landscapes in our country are blighted by noise, air and light pollution."
"And it's clear that the Tories can't even convince some of their own MPs that fracking under national parks and other areas of natural beauty is a good idea", added Martin. "So why should the public believe them?"
Conservative MP Andrew Turner, whose Isle of Wight constituency is under threat of fracking, said: "I voted against the proposals. Although the Government has listened to concerns raised and made a number of concessions, I do not believe that they go far enough to protect environmentally sensitive areas such as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty."
Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston, whose constituency covers the South Downs, tweeted: "I oppose fracking in and on edges / under our National Parks & AONBs & have voted against this." However Zac Goldsmith's twitter feed was silent on the matter. The final Tory rebel was Jason McCartney, MP for Colne Valley. A further 30 failed to vote.
The new rules will not apply in Wales and Scotland as regulation of fracking is devolved the Welsh and Scottish governments. Scotland has a formal moratorium on fracking in place and Wales has an effective moratorium with no consents being issued.
This article is an extended version of one originally published by DeSmog.uk with additional reporting by The Ecologist.
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