New Fracking Regulations: Under land and out of hand?

It will have come as little surprise to most that the Conservative Government succeeded in getting the Onshore Hydraulic Fracturing (Protected Areas) Regulations 2015 (the Regulations) through in yesterday’s vote.
Since Cameron declared his party are going all out for fracking, there has been a suite of initiatives created to support fracking bids, and the fact that only four Conservatives voted against these Regulations, shows that the momentum in favour of fracking is continuing to build.

As our previous blog post highlighted, these Regulations  prohibit fracking only above 1,200 metres beneath surface level within Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), World Heritage Sites, National Parks, the Broads and Source Protection Zones 1. In practice, this simply adds 200 metres to the general 1,000 metres depth restriction found in the Infrastructure Act 2015.

This falls short of the level of protection originally promised by the Tories. The outrage this has sparked amongst many has only been exacerbated by the way these Regulations were pushed through without MP debate or public consultation.

Importantly, these Regulations leave out any protection for SSSIs and sites protected under EU Habitats and Wild Bird Directives and are also silent on the point of protection for surface development in all of these areas.

Surface activities

The Government is also exploring to what extent safeguards should be applied to surface activities associated with fracking in specified protected areas.

The recent consultation on Proposed Restrictions on Surface Development through the Petroleum Exploration and Development Licence (PEDLs) is proposing to prevent hydraulic fracturing operations taking place in wells drilled at the surface in specified protected areas, by adding in restrictions to PEDL conditions. (Note – this will have no impact on conventional drilling operations).

The protected areas for the purposes of the consultation do include SSSIs and Habitats and Wild Birds Directive sites, in addition to the areas that the Regulations protect from fracking above 1,200 metres below ground. However, the consultation is only looking at PEDLs yet to be granted, which means the PEDLs already in place wouldn’t be caught.

So, while it looks hopeful that we won’t end up with surface activities associated with fracking taking place in protected areas, there won’t be any additional safeguards in place from siting a fracking rig just outside a protected area, with a network of horizontal pipes accessing the rock below the 1000m or 1200m (depending on the site) limits.

This is all quite different in terms of safeguarding, from the outright ban on all sensitive areas originally promised by the Government.

Filed Under: Environment

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