The Government has come under fire due to an open consultation being held by the Environment Agency, which could remove some of the red-tape around testing for oil and gas reserves at potential fracking sites.

Currently, the Environment Agency is required to visit each potential fracking site, and carry out an environmental audit before activities can start. The proposed changes would instead create a one-size-fits-all set of regulations for companys looking to test oil and gas wells.

However, the move has been described by green campaigners as “reckless” and “irresponsible”.

Jake White, a legal adviser at Friends of the Earth, said: “It is part of the process of steadily chipping away at the regulation of fracking. The activities which standard permits cover can still have real impacts.”

Greenpeace senior scientist David Santillo told the Independent: “Whitehall wants to speed up the development of the fledgling industry by making it quicker and cheaper for companies to start work.”

Simply untrue

However, the Government has today (15 June) responded to the criticism, saying the potential impact of the Environment Agency consultation has been “misreported”.

A DECC statement claims that the consultation only looks to streamline testing in unconventional oil and gas wells, not the drilling itself.

“The process for operators to apply for a fracking permit has not changed. Any operator wanting to undertake fracking needs to apply for an environmental permit, conduct an environmental impact assessment and apply for planning permission. This is open to full public consultation.”

Decc added that the idea that fracking applications would receive less environmental scrutiny from the public was “simply untrue”.

The statement concluded: “As we have said before, we have made a commitment to ensure local people have a say about fracking in their community. The Government continues to support the development of the shale industry in a safe and sustainable way.”

In January last year, David Cameron procliamed that his Tory-led Government was “all-out for shale“.

Split decision

This latest fracking controversy comes on the same day that Lancashire County council’s planning officers made a major announcement concerning Cuadrilla proposed sites in the country.

Planning officers recommended that permission be granted for Cuadrilla to frack at Preston New Road, while recommending that permission is refused for fracking at Roseacre.

The final decision on planning permission will be decided by a Council vote next week.

The recommendation for refusal at Roseacre was based around the “unacceptable impact on rural roads” of the increased number of Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs).

Friends of the Earth’s north west campaigner Furqan Naeem said: “We are disappointed that planning officers have this time not recognised the unacceptable impact that Cuadrilla’s plans to frack at Preston New Road would have on local people, to climate change, and to the environment

“The Council must now listen to the tens of thousands of people who have objected to fracking at both sites, and the strong evidence put before them, and reject both of Cuadrilla’s proposals to frack. Fracking has already been halted in Scotland and Wales because of serious risks to the environment, to health and of causing climate change, and two thirds of people in Lancashire want it halted too. 

“Rejecting Cuadrilla’s plans is the only way to stop Lancashire’s communities and environment being made the UK’s guinea pig for risky and polluting fracking”

Brad Allen

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