MPs agree national parks and protected areas no place for fracking

Fracking will be banned in national parks, sites of special scientific interest and other "protected areas" after MPs approved a last-minute amendment to the Infrastructure Bill.

Rossall beach near Blackpool, a region where test drilling for shale gas has taken place - image: Flickr
Rossall beach near Blackpool, a region where test drilling for shale gas has taken place - image: Flickr

The amendment, called for by the Environmental Audit Committee, was successfully added amid a brewing Liberal Democrat and Tory rebellion against the process of drilling and injecting fluid into the ground at high pressure to fracture shale rocks and release natural gas.

During the debate in the House of Commons yesterday energy minister Amber Rudd said the Government would remove the provision that shale gas exploration would be allowed in these areas in "exceptional circumstances".

She added there would be outright ban in "national parks, sites of special interest and areas of national beauty".

These are:

  • Special areas of conservation under the Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c) Regulations 1994
  • Special protection areas under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981
  • Sites of special scientific interest under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981
  • National parks under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949
  • The Broads under the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads Act 1988
  • Areas of outstanding natural beauty under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000

MPs from cross-party group the Environmental Audit Committee called for the amendment, along with a series of other changes, yesterday, saying there were "huge uncertainties" about the environmental impact of the process.

As thousands of anti-fracking protesters gathered outside Parliament, MPs voted against the committee-backed amendment to suspend shale gas extraction for up to 30 days until it could be further investigated, by 308 votes to 52.

However, the government conceded to a Labour suggestion that a check-list of 13 new conditions be met before fracking could start.   

Fracking has led to a dramatic drop in gas prices for United States residents and a boost to the US economy.

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