Enjoy Britain’s national parks while you can, because they may soon be forever changed by shale gas exploration. UK lawmakers have amended earlier legislation to allow for fracking in protected areas, so long as the surface drilling takes places just outside the border of those areas. Fracking companies will be permitted to drill down and then horizontally into protected areas, as if in attempt to fool environmental activists into thinking it doesn’t count.
The previous Labour amendments were interpreted in such a way that omitted fracking for shale gas in national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONBs), and sites of special scientific interest and groundwater source protection zones (SPZs). That amounts to around 40% of the lands in question, giving the impression that the area open to fracking would be much smaller than originally feared.
This week, Ministers were forced to accept changes that ripped away these protections. Under the latest amendments, oil companies will not be barred from drilling horizontally underground to reach areas inside the previously protected boundaries. Energy and climate change minister Amber Rudd pointed to the size of the protected areas, saying that it “might not be practical to guarantee that fracking will not take place under them in all cases without unduly constraining the industry.”
Critics have accused lawmakers of getting too friendly with the shale gas industry and failing to give adequate time or attention to the discussion of the proposed amendments. Unsurprisingly, executives of oil and gas companies working in the UK are thrilled by the loophole this amendment creates. Both sides of the controversy are eagerly awaiting more detailed definitions of the protection for natural areas.