Bid to make national parks safe fracking free zones

Fracking rigs like this one are a common site in America
Fracking rigs like this one are a common site in America
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National parks will be at the centre of a shale gas showdown today as Government lawmakers are told to bring in tougher drilling controls.

The Government’s Infrastructure Bill makes its way through the Commons today with Labour preparing to try and force through 11 amendments.

Labour’s plan includes a change in the Bill seeking to make any national park fracking bid subject to a “presumption in favour of rejection,” meaning developers would have to set out exceptional circumstances in order to get the go ahead.

Ministers have previously indicated fracking can go ahead at national parks due to the “minimum disruption” they say the wells cause.

In Yorkshire fracking company Third Energy has given a commitment about not fracking in the North York Moors National Park, though is expected to seek drilling permission in sites close to the park’s border.

Tom Greatrex, Labour’s shadow energy minister, will this afternoon table 11 amendments to the Infrastructure Bill marking the most concerted effort to date to tighten the regulations for shale gas.

He said: “Shale gas extraction cannot go ahead unless we have a system of robust regulation and comprehensive inspection. Despite clear flaws in the existing framework, David Cameron’s government have repeatedly side-lined genuine and legitimate environmental concern and seem prepared to accept shale gas at any cost.

“Labour have today proposed the biggest overhaul of the regulation for shale gas to date, introducing requirements for baseline assessments of methane in the groundwater, monitoring of fugitive emissions and independent well inspection among other measures, and we will look to table further amendments ensuring that there are adequate protections for groundwater aquifers.”

Other proposed changes include placing an obligation on operators to monitor and report fugitive emissions and letting local planning authorities consider the cumulative impact of multiple developments in their area.

Fracking involves the use of water, sand and chemicals forced at high pressure into underground rock formations to free trapped gas deposits.

It has been credited with dramatically lowering the cost of energy in the United States by opening up access to new sources of gas and giving a significant boost to the country’s economy.

But environmental campaigners argue the technique exposes water courses to the risk of contamination and uses huge volumes of water.