MP supports ban on fracking in National Parks
Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert has said that “the whole point” of the Commons vote on fracking last week was to prevent the activity in National Parks and other protected areas.
MPs voted on Wednesday to protect National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Beauty and other environmentally sensitive places by banning fracking in these areas last week. The new Onshore Hydraulic Fracturing (Protected Areas) Regulations 2015 will mean that drilling cannot take place up to 1.2 kilometres below the surface in any of the protected areas. The Government has also said that drilling at the surface of the protected areas will be banned.
Campaigners against fracking claimed that the vote would damage National Parks because drilling could still take place below the surface, but Mr Herbert emphasised that this would only be allowed in rock “at enormous depths” of three quarters of a mile below protected areas.
Speaking on Neil Pringle’s radio show on BBC Sussex & Surrey on Thursday morning (17 December), Mr Herbert said: “A huge amount of the concern was that rigs were going to be set up in the National Park at the surface, and that drilling was going to go down through the chalk and sensitive water aquifers. None of that will happen because the rigs can’t be set up in the National Park …. there can be no traffic movements ... which is one of the things people were very concerned about. So these protected areas cannot be fracked, at the surface, or up to three quarters of a mile [below the surface].
“Small pipelines can be drilled out horizontally, over long distances, at enormous depths. We are talking about 40 times deeper than the deepest London Underground tunnel, or the equivalent of the height of Ben Nevis. At 1.2 kilometres below ground, three times deeper than groundwater sources, in rock, yes something could be going on under the National Park. That is not, in my book, ‘in’ the National Park, and I think it is completely stretching the English language to say that it means fracking is being allowed in the National Park."
Mr Herbert said that misleading claims about the vote had been made by campaigners whose real agenda was to oppose fracking in any circumstances. “[They] have been whipping up a huge amount of public concern on this, saying fracking was going to be allowed in National Parks. The whole point of the vote on Wednesday was to ban it in National Parks, which is why I, as MP for the South Downs, fiercely protective of the South Downs, making sure that we preserve them, was happy to vote for these regulations because that is what they are actually doing. If I thought this was going to damage the South Downs then I certainly would not have supported the vote.”
Mr Herbert also pointed out that fracking would be subject to strict environmental and other licenses, and that drilling would also require planning permission. He said: “I am not an unqualified supporter of fracking. I formally objected to proposals for exploratory drilling between Wisborough Green and Kirdford – outside the National Park – on the principal grounds that the heavy lorry movements involved would be damaging to the villages. And planning permission was refused by West Sussex County Council on these grounds”.
Speaking after the vote, Mr Herbert said: “I will continue to support measures to ensure that our most precious landscapes are protected, that fracking is very strictly regulated, and that drilling only takes place in appropriate locations."
1. To listen to the BBC Sussex & Surrey interview visit http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0390ds4 (2hr 18min in).
2. To read Nick Herbert’s article in the West Sussex County Times about the new protections see http://tinyurl.com/pz99n6b.
3. On 27 October 2015 a House of Commons Committee discussed the new regulations preventing fracking in protected areas. Nick Herbert spoke in the Committee. To read the Hansard report of the committee proceedings see http://tinyurl.com/oxny95r
4. On 4 November 2015 the Government launched a consultation proposing further safeguards for protected areas, as the Government promised in the Committee. These measures would be provided through the licensing process and would prevent any surface operations associated with fracking in a wide range of locations. These include National Parks, Source Protection Zones (SPZ) 1 - the areas close to a drinking water source where the risk associated with groundwater contamination is at its greatest - and Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs). To see the full list in the consultation document see http://tinyurl.com/qcv3xop.