Fracking licence bidding to open as National Parks are protected

The bidding process for licences to explore shale gas will open today, the government has announced.

The government is committed to going "all out for shale", claiming it is important for energy security, jobs and the economy.

Critics argue shale gas - which is extracted by the process of fracking - is damaging to the environment with the risk of water pollution.

Ministers are also expected to announce that National Parks will be protected from the practice unless there are "exceptional circumstances".

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National Trust: Protect nature reserves from fracking

Nature reserves are not currently among the protected fracking areas. Credit: Gareth Fuller/PA Archive

The National Trust has welcomed new government guidelines dictating that applications for fracking in protected areas such as National Parks should be refused in all but "exceptional" circumstances.

The organisation said it was "right" that the Government addressed concerns about the impact on "special places", but called for the measures to be extended to nature reserves and other wildlife sites.

This is a significant change in approach from DECC. We hope it will reflect a much more cautious approach that recognises the risks of turning some of the most special places in the country over to industrial scale extraction of shale gas and oil.

– Richard Hebditch, National Trust

'Giant loophole could allow fracking in National Parks'

Campaigners have argued that rules protecting National Parks from fracking could be bypassed due to a "giant loophole".

Many local communities have shown resistance to plans for fracking in their areas. Credit: Gareth Fuller/PA Archive

The Government has said fracking in national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONBs) and the Broads should be refused other than in "exceptional circumstances and in the public interest".

But environmentalists warned that as ministers have indicated that developing shale gas and oil resources is in the interests of the country, the rules could allow fracking in protected areas.

Official guidance states that if proposed development for shale oil or gas would lead to substantial harm or to loss of a World Heritage Site, planners should refuse consent "unless wholly exceptional circumstances apply".

Greenpeace UK energy campaigner Simon Clydesdale said: "By introducing an exception under a vague 'public interest' case, they've created a giant loophole that could allow fracking all over these protected areas, potentially causing serious environmental damage to our unique natural heritage."

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Mapped: The areas opened up for fracking in Britain

A map shows the areas of Britain potentially available for shale gas exploration - also known as fracking.

Areas in yellow are already licensed, while those in blue are now available for bids. Credit: DECC

As shown above, the areas in blue are those available in the latest round of licensing, while those in yellow signify areas where licences have already been awarded - including Blackpool, Brighton and Portsmouth.

More information can be found on the Department for Energy and Climate Change website.

Fracking: Campaigners attack 'threat to public health'

Campaign groups have lined up in opposition to fracking as the bidding process for licences gets underway, with claims that the process is bad for the environment and unsafe to the public.

Campaigners have long opposed fracking in Britain. Credit: Martin Gerten/DPA

Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth say plans to protect National Parks will not quieten protesters, adding that communities should be offered the same safeguards.

Today the risk of fracking has spread. This threat to the environment and public health could now affect millions more people.

– Tony Bosworth, Friends of the Earth's energy campaigner

Ministers waited until the parliamentary recess to make their move, no doubt aware of the political headache this will cause to MPs whose constituencies will be affected.

– Louise Hutchins, Greenpeace UK energy campaigner

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Report: Fracking 'could cause water shortages'

Bidding for licences to explore shale gas will open today. Credit: Lindsey Parnaby/PA Archive

Shale gas fracking could lead to water shortgages in parts of the country, a report warned last week.

The paper by the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) claimed the water-intensive nature of the process, along with predicted climate change, could mean existing public supplies may not provide enough to meet requirements.

The study also warned of "major shortcomings" in regulations regarding the local environmental and public health risks surrounding fracking.

It was also claimed that there was a "complete lack of evidence behind claims that shale gas exploitation will bring down UK energy bills".

Fracking: 'Robust regulation and monitoring is vital'

Robust regulation and comprehensive monitoring are vital to ensure the public acceptability test is met when it comes to fracking, Labour's Shadow Energy Minister has said.

Tom Greatrex said: "With 80 per cent of our heating coming from gas and declining North Sea reserves, shale and other unconventional gas may have the potential to form a part of our future energy mix.

"There are legitimate environmental concerns that must be addressed before extraction is permitted.

"David Cameron's Government must take these issues seriously rather than drawing simplistic and irresponsible comparisons with the USA."

His comments come after the government announced the bidding process for licences to explore shale gas will open today.

National Parks 'to be protected' from fracking

National Parks will be protected from fracking unless there are "exceptional circumstances", ministers said.

As the latest bidding process for shale licences opened, ministers unveiled new guidance on which sites can be explored for gas and oil.

A view of the Lake District National Park. Credit: PA Wire

Applications to explore in National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, World Heritage Sites and the Broads will refused other than in "exceptional circumstances and in the public interest".

Business and Energy minister Matthew Hancock said the new guidance will be "robustly enforced" to ensure Britain's "outstanding landscapes" are protected.

But Greenpeace said the policy would do nothing to reduce opposition to fracking, as campaigners continue to voice concern over the environmental risks.

Bidding process for fracking licences set to open

The bidding process for licences to explore shale gas will open today, the government has announced.

A test for fracking is pictured in Manchester, as the latest bidding process for licences open today. Credit: PA Wire

The government is committed to going "all out for shale", claiming it is important for energy security, jobs and the economy.

But critics argue shale gas - which is extracted by the process of fracking - is damaging to the environment with the risk of water pollution.

The licences will allow companies to start test drilling, but they will still need to gain planning permission and environmental permits before further drilling can occur.

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