Fracking u-turn: Banned in national parks, moratorium rejected

Fracking for shale gas will NOT be fast-tracked in the UK after the Government accepted Labour proposals close a number of environmental loopholes in a spectacular last-minute u-turn.

With thousands of anti-fracking protestors gathered outside Parliament on Monday (26 January), ministers finally accepted proposals to ban fracking in national parks and impose new red tape on shale gas companies. Potential new sites, for example, will require one year of monitoring before fracking can begin.

However, Government sources have since said the ban would only apply ‘to the narrowest definition’, covering areas where fracking was effectively already banned under existing rules, according to The Telegraph.

Big victory

And an attempt to impose a moratorium on shale gas exploration – for fracking to be suspended for up to 30 months while an assessment is carried out – did not attract front-bench or Opposition support, failing by 308 votes to 52.

“This is a huge U-turn by the government and big victory for the protection of Britain’s environment,” said the Shadow Energy and Climate Change Secretary Caroline Flint. “Labour has always said shale gas extraction cannot go ahead unless there is a system of robust regulation and comprehensive inspection, but David Cameron has repeatedly ignored people’s genuine and legitimate concerns.”

This somewhat unexpected cave-in by ministers on fracking is likely to further slow the development of the shale gas industry in the UK, despite the Prime Minister’s insistence the Government is going “all out for shale”. The Government’s unmitigated support for shale was laid bare earlier in the day by a leaked George Osborne letter, asking cabinet members to fast-track fracking as a ‘personal priority’.

With MPs overwhelmingly rejecting the bid to suspend fracking for shale gas, Friends of the Earth (FoE) – which has been leading the campaign against Government fracking plans – has repeated its call for an outright ban, saying the concessions do not go far enough and would not prevent the controversial fracking applications in Lancashire. 

Complete halt

FoE energy campaigner Donna Hume said: “Public opinion and increasing concern from MPs has forced the Government into retreat on fracking. Everywhere fracking is proposed, local communities say no.

“But these concessions do not go far enough. These changes would not prevent fracking getting the green light in Lancashire, despite overwhelming opposition from local communities. The only way to safeguard our climate, local communities and their environment from the fracking threat is to halt shale gas completely. 

“Ministers should stop believing their own fracking hype and concentrate on real solutions to the energy challenges we face such as the renewable power and cutting energy waste.”

Ahead of the Lancashire County Council vote on two fracking wells, Chancellor Osborne appeared to lay out a plan to ‘reduce the risk and delays of drilling the first well’ in his letter, including ‘working with Cuadrilla and Lancashire council to ensure that planning conditions are discharged as quickly as possible’. The full six-page letter can be seen here.

Luke Nicholls & Brad Allen

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