Last week was a big week of news for fracking. It looked at some points as though the UK could get a total moratorium, but this was overturned, and instead, laws allowing fracking companies to drill and dump substances under land without permission were passed. There were some wins however.
Environmental Committee recommends moratorium
In the lead up to the 26th January, when the Infrastructure Bill came to the House of Commons for MPs to debate and vote on amendments to the Bill, there were growing calls from some MPs for a moratorium on fracking. On Monday morning, the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) produced their report on the Environmental Risks of Fracking, which called for a moratorium on fracking, saying it's not compatible with the UK's climate change targets and had 'significant environmental risks'.
Four to five hundred people attended the rally against fracking outside Westminster and cheered the inspirational speakers loudly. Many thanks to all who came or sent messages of support. This great video of the rally gives you a flavor if you weren’t there.
Infrastructure Bill: No Moratorium but ban on fracking in National Parks/AONBs
The vote on the moratorium was defeated 308 votes to 52, after most Labour MPs abstained. The important clauses allowing fracking companies to drill under land without permission were passed without the opportunity to debate them, which is disgraceful given that 367,000+ people have signed a petition against them, and 99% of respondents to the consultation on the Bill were opposed to them.
Instead two other things happened: the Energy Minister, Amber Rudd, announced that there will be 'an outright ban on fracking in National Parks and AONBs' and a new clause proposed by Labour was accepted. This lays out 13 regulations on fracking, including 12 month baseline monitoring, mandatory Environmental Impact Assessments and banning it from 'Protected Areas', near aquifers or at less than 1,000m below ground.
We should definitely take heart from this that mounting public opposition is working! Some good chunks of the South East, including the South Downs National Park and the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) would be safe from unconventional exploration if this becomes law.
But it still leaves many “out in the cold” for example Celtique’s site at Wisborough Green is just 500 metres from the National Park, and the Billingshurst site is not in a protected area either. At Balcombe there are still concerns because despite being in an AONB they could still see conventional drilling with processes that aren’t wanted near the village. This article sums things up.