MPs to vote on fracking under parks, water protection zones

The map above does not show SSSI’s

MPs are voting today on new rules which would allow fracking under – but not in – national parks and groundwater protection zones.

The government had previously said it would impose an ‘outright ban’ on fracking in National Parks, SSSIs  and groundwater source zones .

However today’s legislation has sidestepped this by proposing to put rigs outside the perimeters of the areas and drill sideways into fissures 1,200m under the parks.

Crucially the rules also use the same depth limit for zones earmarked as key to groundwater extraction – allowing fracking to take place below this point rather than banning it entirely.

Following consultation with regulators lower risk groundwater zones appear entirely unprotected.

Whilst the rules mean parks themselves will be protected from fracking – though it is likely  drilling (for example to take samples or extract conventional gas) will still be permitted as it is currently.

Trucks through parks

In practice the rules will prove highly contentious.

Drilling for shale gas can require 6-17 truck visits a day to bring in the water used to force open cracks in the rocks and to remove waste-water which must be taken for treatment.

For many drilling sites this may mean hundreds of extra heavy goods vehicles using small – and sometimes congested – national park roads each month.

Groundwater zones

The new rules row back on a proposed total ban on fracking in Level 1 Groundwater Source Protection Zones (SPZ1’s) by setting a limit underneath which fracking will be allowed.

These are the most important areas for water extraction and are defined as within 50 meters of where groundwater is removed and/or within a 50 day travel time of the point where groundwater is removed for domestic use.

However, up until now, there has been no limit to their depth meaning that a ban on fracking in these zones would limit the horizontal drilling key to shale gas extraction.

“It has not been necessary, to date, to formally define in legislation how deep beneath the surface SPZ1s extend, whereas the definition of “protected groundwater source area” extends to a depth of 1,200 metres,” says the legislation adding that a definition is needed to deliver shale’s economic objectives.

“Defining a depth limit of more than 1,200m below these protected areas would hinder the exploitation of potentially valuable shale gas reserves, and would therefore have an adverse impact on the Government’s energy security and economic policy aims.”

The rules appear even weaker for water protection zones type 2 & 3 – defined as the outer zones and the catchment source for the water zones respectively. We can’t find any depth restriction on fracking in those zones.

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