The 14 Words

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

FRACKING HELL: Ministers pave way for fracking in the suburbs

The suburbs of ten of Britain's biggest cities could face fracking as ministers unveil plans to open up half of the country for shale gas exploration


Fracking could take place in the suburbs after ministers announced plans to open up swathes of Britain to energy companies. The government on Monday invited companies to bid for the rights to explore half of Britain for shale gas, including land covering Britain's 10 biggest cities.

The Department for Energy and Climate Change, which is overseeing the bidding process, emphasised that fracking would take place in both rural and urban areas.

The cities which have been opened up for fracking include London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Sheffield.

It came as ministers moved to head off anger in Tory heartlands ahead of the election by announcing new protections for National Parks and other areas of outstanding natural beauty.

In a significant concession, fracking would only be allowed in the most precious areas of the country in "exceptional circumstances".

However Matthew Hancock, the business and energy minister, said that fracking in national parks does not need to be an issue of "great controversy" if it is done in a "reasonable" way.

According to maps released by ministers, fracking could take place in 10 out of the 13 national parks in England and Wales.

Mr Hancock told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: 
"There will need to be exceptional circumstances to do this in natural parks, precisely because for decades there already has been exploration for conventional oil in national parks and it's been done in a way that has not caused great controversy.
"And where it's being done in a reasonable way without an impact on the local environment, then we don't want to put a stop to something that's already happening that is happening uncontroversially."
Fracking involves pumping water, sand and chemicals into the ground at high pressure, hydraulically fracturing shale rocks to extract oil and gas. Campaigners have warned that fracking could lead to water contamination and the destruction of wildlife habitats.

Greenpeace yesterday warned that there would be a "high political price" as it published an analysis showing that three quarters of the Tories' top target seats have been opened up for exploration.

It said that 24 of the 31 constituencies represented by MPs who are in the Cabinet are affected by the new licence area, while 31 out of 40 target seats in the Conservative's 2015 election strategy are also affected.

The licensing area reaches into 92% of Labour-held seats, covering 506 constituencies in total affects 10 out of 13 national parks, 47 per cent of major aquifers and all 10 of the UK's largest cities, Greenpeace said.

Greenpeace UK energy campaigner Simon Clydesdale said that putting out the new licensing round after MPs had gone on their summer holidays showed how "politically toxic" an issue fracking had become.
"Just a few months ago ministers were falling over each other to make big announcements about shale gas.
"Now, with MPs in Tory heartlands feeling the heat and all but seven Cabinet ministers threatened by drilling in their constituencies, there could be a high political price to pay for this shale steamroller at next year's general election."
According to campaigners, energy companies are increasingly moving close to city centres. Northdown Energy holds a licence to frack in Croydon, a London suburb, while iGas is pursuing shale on Merseyside.

Under the new rules fracking in protected areas will only be approved by ministers if the gas and oil reserves are so large that they are deemed to be of "exceptional" national significance and any impact on the environment can be kept to a minimum.

It raises the prospect of Britain’s fracking industry being focused in the north of England, as fewer potential shale reserves there are situated in national parks.

Mr Hancock wants to speed up the time it takes for companies to get approval to drill for shale gas.

At present firms have to wait around 15 months for permission to drill but Mr Hancock wants to half that ahead of the election.


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