At the 11th hour, the House of Lords and MPs weakened the fracking regulation section of the Infrastructure Bill, going back on the Government's promise to ban fracking totally from National Parks only a week before. The final version of the Infrastructure Bill does not afford strong protections to National Parks, AONBs or Water Source Protection Zones. Sussex, and large areas of the country in these zones are not safe from fracking development. Articles in more detail can be found here and here.
Fracking is still nominally banned in National Parks and Groundwater Source Protection Areas, but a sneaky bit of legislation leaves it up to the Secretary of State to 'decide' what the definitions of these areas are after the General Election.
Another clause says 'consent for fracking may be issued subject to any conditions which the Secretary of State thinks appropriate' (emphasis added). This means local planning decisions can be delegated to the Secretary of State. This doesn't bolster our confidence, particularly as it's clear that both the major parties are pro-fracking.
Labour have shown their hand with the Infrastructure Bill : most of their MPs abstained from a vote on a moratorium, they proposed deliberately vague regulations instead of calling for a proper MPs debate of the changes to trespass laws, and when those regulations were weakened they did nothing, bar faint protests, to defend them.
It seems as though (bar a few brave non-whipped MPs,) they never really planned to object to fracking. These paper regulations allow them to say they are the 'alternative' and 'for the people', but are in fact as pro-shale as they come.
The 'Infrastructure Act', now passed, makes fracking significantly easier in this country. The final result is an Act which :
- Makes it a legal objective to maximise the economic recovery of UK oil and gas
- Gives someone the right to exploit deep level land for oil and gas without informing the landowner
- Bans fracking in 'protected areas' and 'groundwater source areas', but leaves it up to the Secretary of State to decide what these words actually mean
- Bans fracking at depths of less than 1000m, but the Secretary of State can override this.
If it wasn't clear before, this shows for definite that the only safe fracking is no fracking. Regulations can always be weakened.