By Joe Mellor, Deputy Editor
Ministers will give the go-ahead for an expansion of fracking across Britain; allowing drilling in national parks and other protected areas in “exceptional circumstances,” however ministers retain power to veto plans.
Fracking involves blasting water, chemicals and sand at high pressure into shale rock formations to release the gas and oil held inside. Environmentalists argue that the process can cause contamination of the water supply and earth tremors.
The government will invite firms to bid for onshore oil and gas licences for the first time in six years, with about half of the country advertised for exploration, which has worried a leading academic, amongst others.
Alister Scott, Professor of Environmental and Spatial Planning at Birmingham City University said: “The case for shale gas is based on the transformative effects that have occurred in the US fracking revolution leading to cheaper energy prices and improved energy security. There are huge dangers in thinking that the scale of exploitation in the US can be replicated in the UK, given our different geology and cost factors for extraction.
“The rush to provide incentives to people and communities affected by fracking is troublesome in social and environmental justice terms, given that many people in the UK have to experience unpleasant planning developments, such as mineral extractions, but do not receive anything like the compensation on offer for fracking.
“Government ministers are quick to condemn ‘unsightly’ solar and wind turbine developments, but seemingly embrace landscapes of fracking infrastructure.
“I see a hasty dash to frack, incentives to reduce opposition, cherry picked evidence to support fracking and unsubstantiated claims of huge energy reserves and benefits to override local concerns.
“The lessons from recent local elections is that the government must listen more to the concerns of people. The government are failing those very interests of people who support fracking as much as those who oppose it.”
His views are not alone; a sea of voices from across the political spectrum are very dubious of fracking and its supposed benefits. Environmental concerns have left many people worried about the long term impact, of this type of exploration in the UK.
Caroline Lucas, the Green party MP for Brighton, who was arrested for protesting against fracking in Balcombe last year, also raised concerns that there is no outright ban on fracking in protected areas.
She said: “If this still leaves the door open to fracking in national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty, it completely undermines the protective status that those areas have been given and renders it meaningless. Many campaigners have campaigned for decades to get national park status, and they are given for a reason. The idea that they could be offered up to the fracking firms is a scandal.”
However there are not all dissenting voices to the Government’s plans, Simon Walker, director-general of the Institute of Directors, said the announcement marks “another step forward on the road towards a dynamic, productive and well regulated shale industry in the UK”.
Additionally, Richard Hebditch, Assistant Director of External Affairs for the National Trust said: “We welcome the new planning guidance which makes clear that applications should be refused in these areas other than in exceptional circumstances.”