Many constituents have contacted me recently and raised their concerns about fracking and the Government's Draft Onshore Hydraulic Fracturing (Protected Areas) Regulations 2015.

 

I fully understand and appreciate these concerns but would like to reassure you that the Government is creating a regulatory regime that provides clear, strong protections for the environment.

 

These protections are provided for in the Infrastructure Act 2015. The Act forbids the Secretary of State from issuing consent for fracking if it would take place within a 'protected groundwater source area'. The regulations clearly set out what is meant by this, and ensure that fracking would be banned at depths of less than 1,200 metres within 50 metres of a point where water used for domestic or food purposes is extracted. Drinking water is not normally found below 400 metres. This limit therefore provides at least 800 metres between the depth of most drinking water sources and the highest possible level at which hydraulic fracturing can take place. The regulations also ban fracking in zones through which groundwater (again used for domestic or food purposes) travels for 50 days before it reaches an abstraction point. I therefore believe that these regulations will provide suitable protection against any health risks.

 

With regards to underground access, proposals are about striking the right balance between addressing the legitimate concerns of landowners and realising the benefits of shale gas to the community and the economy. Consent will not be given for shale gas operations at less than 1,000 metres, which is much deeper than the access required by many other companies installing cables, pipes and tunnels.

 

The draft regulations also define the areas in which fracking will be banned. I can assure you that National Parks are covered by these protections, and as such, fracking cannot take place at depths of less than 1,200 metres in these areas. This is also the case for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Broads and World Heritage Sites. The Government has also clearly committed to ensuring that fracking cannot be conducted from wells that are drilled at the surface of National Parks or other protected areas, and I am confident that these protections will ensure that the beauty of our National Parks is protected.

 

Sites of Special Scientific Interest already enjoy strong protection under the existing planning and regulatory regime and these rules make it clear that development should not normally be permitted if it is likely to have a negative impact.

 

The UK has one of the best track records in the world when it comes to protecting our environment while also developing our industries, and Ministers have assured me that that this experience will be brought to bear on the shale gas protections. The industry will be developed safely with world class environmental protections, creating jobs and delivering better energy security, while all the time safeguarding some of our most precious landscapes.

 

With these in place, I think it is right that we explore and make use of shale gas and oil. The opportunity to extract this energy, as well as to secure jobs and investment, cannot be ignored.