HYDRAULIC fracturing could still take place under the South Downs National Park after the government rowed back on an earlier commitment to ban controversial ‘fracking’ under protected areas.
Fracking companies will now be allowed to drill horizontally under national parks and other protected areas if their wells start just outside the boundaries.
Ministers were forced to accept a series of new regulations at the end of January after facing defeat by concerned backbenchers.
However, the final amendments now passed by MPs have unpicked many of them.
The amendments had ruled out fracking for shale gas in national parks and other protected areas – covering more than 40 per cent of the large area of England being offered by the government under licence for future shale gas exploration.
But energy and climate change minister Amber Rudd then told MPs : “In the case of AONBs and national parks, given their size and dispersion, it might not be practical to guarantee that fracking will not take place under them in all cases without unduly constraining the industry.”
Anti fracking campaigners have reacted angrily claiming the government removed its guarantees to protect precious countryside and drinking water from ‘risky fracking’.
Brenda Pollack, south east campaigner for the Friends of the Earth: “This government roll back means controversial fracking could still be allowed under the South Downs National Park and the High Weald and in areas that provide much of our drinking water.”
“Amber Rudd must immediately rule out fracking in all national parks and water protection zones.
“Instead of watering down crucial protections for communities and wildlife, the Westminster government should follow the lead of Wales, Scotland, France, Bulgaria, the Netherlands and New York State by putting a stop to fracking and instead focus on renewables.”
She said the amendments had left ‘the door open to potential fracking in areas where ‘drinking water is sourced from’.
Friends of the Earth campaigners want a total ban on fracking.
“The only way to safeguard our climate, local communities and their environment from the fracking threat is to halt shale gas completely,” said Ms Pollock.
“Ministers should stop believing their own fracking hype and concentrate on real solutions to the energy challenges.”
Wisborough Green villagers who are outside the national park are awaiting an appeal by shale oil and gas exploration company Celtique against the refusal by West Sussex County Council of permission for drilling at Boxall Bridge between Wisborough Green and Kirdford.
A public inquiry will take place in September.