Government re-defines Protected Areas for shale developments

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The Government has decided to backtrack on its promise to not allow fracking from Britain’s most important nature sites.

In January, Amber Rudd, the energy secretary, told MPs: “We have agreed an outright ban on fracking in national parks [and] sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs).”

But the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has confirmed that SSSIs will no longer by protected against the exploration for shale gas. This comes as DECC laid draft regulations in parliament on 16 July.

The draft regulations set out further protections for groundwater and National Parks, Areas of Outstanding National Beauty, the Broads and World Heritage Sites, ensuring the process of fracking can only take place below 1200 meters in these areas.  The regulations will be debated in September.

Fracking will still be excluded from national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty, the Broads and world heritage sites under the new plans, though shale companies will be allowed to put a rig outside a national park and drill horizontally underneath it.

A DECC spokesperson said: “We consider that their [SSSIs] protections are adequate under the planning system. Developments won’t normally be permitted if they were going to have an adverse impact on a SSSI.  The number of them would have an adverse effect on the development of the shale gas industry.

“Natural gas meets a third of our energy demand and we will need it for many years to come, even as we decarbonise.  Britain is currently on course to be importing around 75% of its oil and gas resources by 2030 – we need more secure, home grown energy supplies and shale gas must play a part of that.  The choice is not gas or no gas.  The choice is how much we rely on gas from abroad and whether we extract more in the UK.  Having a choice of where we get out energy, including producing our own at home wherever we can, is the best way to make sure we’re secure.  It’s down to us to make the most of our energy reserves, and get the best deal for Britain.”

The draft regulations also said that fracking would be allowed under protected groundwater source areas.

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