This week I attended a committee in the House of Commons to discuss new regulations preventing fracking in protected areas.
Earlier this year the Government committed to ban fracking in National Parks and other sensitive areas. These regulations were one of the means by which this commitment was put into effect.
Fracking - or hydraulic fracturing - entails drilling deep below ground and then, far below below the surface, injecting a high-pressure water mixture into the shale rock to release gas or oil.
The regulations say that fracking cannot take place up to a depth of 1.2 kilometres in protected groundwater source areas, National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and World Heritage Sites.
There was concern that these regulations would still allow fracking at the surface of protected areas.
I pressed the Minister on this point, and she confirmed that the Government remains committed to ensuring that fracking cannot be conducted from wells that are drilled at the surface of National Parks and other protected areas.
So, both on the surface and at depths of up to 1.2 kilometres, fracking in the South Downs National Park will not be permitted.
There was concern that fracking could still encroach under the National Park, because wells for fracking can be drilled horizontally.
But under the regulations this would only be permitted at huge depths: 40 times deeper than the deepest London Underground tunnel, three times deeper than groundwater sources, and deeper than the height of Ben Nevis. And it would still be subject to permits from the Environment Agency.
There was also concern that Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) aren’t explicitly included in the definition of protected areas in the regulations.
But SSSIs have their own protection in planning law. If these sites need even greater protection, I will certainly look at it.
Before this Committee, some pressure groups were claiming that fracking was to be allowed in National Parks, contrary to previous Government assurances.
That’s only possibly true if you mean very deep under the surface. But I think my constituents were being encouraged to believe that it meant that wells could be drilled at or just below the surface of National Parks.
That, as the Government pledged, will not be allowed.