Government performs double U-turn over fracking in SSSIs

The government has changed its mind for a second time on whether to allow shale gas fracking operations on the surface of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs).

SSSIs: surface fracking operations will be banned
SSSIs: surface fracking operations will be banned

In January, the government pledged to ban fracking operations on the surface of protected areas, including SSSIs.

However, in July it reversed this decision, claiming that "it would be impractical to completely rule out drilling in SSSIs".

But in a fresh consultation on surface drilling restrictions on shale gas drilling, published yesterday, it has reversed its position again.

The consultation says it "invites views on the proposal to apply the surface restriction to the following specified protected areas: National Parks, the Broads, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs), World Heritage Sites, Source Protection Zones 1, Sites of Special Scientific Interest, Natura 2000 areas and Ramsar sites."

The document says that all these sites "are already afforded strong protections by the existing regulatory and planning system. However, recognising that surface activities are of greatest public concern, the government is minded to apply the proposals to all of these sensitive areas."

Under the proposals drilling will still be permitted from outside the boundaries of these protected areas but fracking can only take place below 1,200 metres.

Conservation charity the RSPB has welcomed the move.

Martin Harper, conservation director, said: "Government still intends to permit fracking beneath these sites, which we don’t think is sensible. The wider regulatory regime around fracking could still be improved and we await a compelling case that fracking is going to be compatible with the UK’s legally binding climate change commitments. But the announcement of today’s consultation is the first step towards protecting some of England most important sites for wildlife from fracking."

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