Government performs U-turn on SSSI fracking protections

The government has performed a U-turn on plans to exclude shale gas fracking operations from the surface of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs).

National Parks: Fracking will be allowed to take place 1,200 metres beneath the surface
National Parks: Fracking will be allowed to take place 1,200 metres beneath the surface

Draft regulations laid before Parliament yesterday set out conditions under which hydraulic fracturing would be able to take place beneath National Parks, Areas of Outstanding National Beauty, the Broads and World Heritage Sites.

They say that that fracking can only take place below 1,200 metres in these areas.

A government statement said that this was because drinking water "is not normally found below 400m".

The statement said that the government had a "clear commitment to ensure that fracking cannot be conducted from wells that are drilled in the surface of National Parks and other protected areas in such a way as to not impact on conventional drilling operations".

This means the operations under protected areas will be able to take place from outside their boundaries.

The statement said that more details on this would "follow shortly".

But the regulations make no mention of SSSIs despite a government pledge, made in January, to restrict fracking operations in these areas.

A DECC spokesperson said that SSSIs "already have strong protection under the existing planning and regulatory regime. As they are numerous and extremely widespread it would be impractical to completely rule out drilling in SSSIs".

"However, the National Planning Policy Framework already makes clear that development should not normally be permitted if it is likely to have an adverse effect on a Site of Special Scientific Interest."

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