Great Britain

Drilling in National Parks?

Tim Altegör, 31 Jul 14
The British government has been consistently pushing for the controversial fracking technology. A call for tenders for new areas has just been issued. Even national parks are not completely out of the question.

When German ministers Sigmar Gabriel (Business and Energy) and Barbara Hendricks (Environment), both social democrats, earlier this month agreed to largely ban fracking in Germany, the compromise was criticised by many environmentalists, who believed that it was not strict enough. They complained that scientific sample drillings will be allowed, as long as they do not endanger ground water. Additionally, drilling-holes that go more than 3000 metres deep will still be permitted. Furthermore, the whole framework will be reconsidered in 2021. To put it briefly: they want a general ban on fracking without any loopholes.

However, their British counterparts  can only dream of these German conditions. Here, the conservative-liberal government wants fracking whatever it takes. Prime Minister David Cameron hopes to use the technology, which fractures rocks by pushing a mixture of water and chemicals underground, to increase domestic gas resources and become less dependent on  energy imports. Fracking was “a good technology that will be good for our country”, Cameron says. On 28th July, Business and Energy Minister Matthew Hancock  officially started the “14th Landward Licensing Round“, during which licenses for test drillings will be issued. Interested companies have until 28th October, to apply for the licenses to drill at sites throughout the country. Shale gas extracted by fracking had “the potential to provide us with greater energy security, jobs and growth”, said Hancock.

Hazy criteria

The current round of the drilling licenses auction had already started in 2010, but was disrupted by two tremors in Lancashire in the north-west of England, which were caused by fracking. The planning, which has now been completed with delay after additional environmental tests, continues to support the technology nonetheless. Even projects in national parks are possible. That may only be the case 'in exceptional circumstances and where it can be demonstrated they are in the public interest'. However, a closer look at the criteria shows: Public authorities are supposed to consider, not only environmental effects, but also national (energy) considerations and effects on local businesses.

Strictly rejecting fracking would be something entirely else. Unsurprisingly, British environmentalists are mounting the barricades. A Greenpeace activist called the government’s actions a “reckless race for shale gas” and Caroline Lucas, a Member of Parliament for the Green Party who was arrested during anti-fracking protests last year, said national park status was “given for a reason. The idea that they could be offered up to the fracking firms is a scandal."