A cross-party committee of MPs will today debate the level of protection given to special areas of the English countryside from the impacts of fracking.
At 2.30pm, the Delegated Legislation Committee is due to debate the Draft Onshore Hydraulic Fracturing (Protected Areas) Regulations 2015, but environmental campaigners say this 'arcane' group will debate the level of protection given to areas such as national parks, Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), groundwater protection zones, areas of outstanding natural beauty and world heritage sites, even though the Government promised an outright ban on fracking in national parks.
The draft regulations, announced in July, set out further protections, ensuring the process of hydraulic fracturing can only take place below 1,200 metres in these areas. Drinking water is not normally found below 400m.
Ministers also set out their clear commitment to ensure that fracking cannot be conducted from wells that are drilled in the surface of national parks and other protected areas in such a way as to not impact on conventional drilling operations. Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom said that the ‘industry will be developed safely with world-class environmental protections’.
But Greenpeace head of energy, Daisy Sands, has warned that the ‘arcane parliamentary process could see England’s most beautiful countryside fracked without anyone noticing'. Greenpeace suggests that the controversial proposals are being ushered through parliament, rather than receiving the full level of scrutiny from MPs and the public.
In the pre-submission draft of the Northumberland Local Plan, fracking is referred to in the 11th chapter, Managing natural resources, in a paragraph which states: 'The geology of Northumberland has also been identified as having the potential for shale gas, which is able to be extracted using hydraulic fracturing (commonly referred to as 'fracking'). This potential resource is currently untested and it is not known whether an extractable resource is present'.
The policy which refers to the extraction of shale gas refers clearly back to a policy 49 which governs the environmental impacts of extraction. One of the lines says: 'The North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Northumberland Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the adjoining Northumberland National Park and their settings – applicants will be required to demonstrate that the proposals do not adversely affect the special qualities and the statutory purposes of these designations'.