The UK government has awarded dozens of new shale exploration licenses, opening up around 1,000 square miles of England to the controversial process.
The Oil and Gas Authority has announced 27 new location in England where licences to frack for shale gas will be offered, including areas in the Midlands and the North East of the country, giving 12 firms – including Cuadrilla and Ineos, the right to explore for oil and gas.
Another 132 further licenses – spanning around 5,000 square miles – are also expected to be awarded in a second batch later this year, subject to further environmental consultation.
Of the licences subject to further consultation, 73 contain areas that are protected under EU law due to special habitats or species, while the remainder are close to such areas.
The government’s dedication to kick-starting the UK’s fracking industry has left it changing the rule in order to bypass local communities – a move described as a “subversion of democracy” – and reversing its promise to protect areas of natural beauty from the controversial process.
Andrew Pendleton, Friends of the Earth head of campaigns, said:
The Government’s own report into the rural economy impacts of fracking highlights a myriad of concerns, including a drop in house prices, impacts on tourism, and increased noise and traffic congestion – not to mention local environment and climate risks. These offered licences to frack will cause yet more anxiety for people living under the cloud of fracking, now that the Government is allowing companies to drill right through aquifers that are used to supply household drinking water.
But the latest attempts to kick-start fracking, show the government to be increasingly at odds with its citizens.
According to the government’s own survey public support for fracking has hit an all-time low.
Of over 2,000 households surveyed last month, just 21% of respondents support the controversial process. At the same time three-quarters of respondents expressed strong support for renewable energy.
And it is unlikely the new plans will be taken lying down by local communities.
“Hundreds of battles will spring up to defend our rural landscapes from the pollution, noise and drilling rigs that come with fracking,” Greenpeace campaigner Daisy Sands told the BBC.
Anti-fracking campaigners in Lancashire – where the council recently rejected a planning application for shale exploration – are getting ready to dig in and resist the latest government attempts to fast-track fracking.
Meanwhile many communities are already taking steps towards a renewable future, with residents in Balcombe, the village at the centre of 2013 shale gas controversies set to go 100% solar, with community-owned power to spare.