Does the fracking u-turn threaten our national parks?

Posted by Hanna Lindon on 17/12/2015

MPs have voted to allow fracking beneath Britain’s national parks - but what impact could this have on our most celebrated landscapes? Hanna Lindon talks to Ruth Bradshaw, policy and research manager at the Campaign for National Parks to find out.

In a controversial move on Wednesday, MPs voted in favour of new rules that allow fracking 1,200 metres below national parks and other protected sites. The government was accused of ‘sneaking’ the measure through parliament without allowing a proper debate of the issues involved.

We caught up with Ruth Bradshaw, policy and research manager at the Campaign for National Parks, to find out how the new regulations were passed so quickly and why they constitute a threat to the UK’s most beautiful areas.   

HL: Earlier this year the government promised a ban on fracking in national parks  do you think this new decision constitutes a betrayal of that promise?

RB: Yes, we think it is backtracking on the very public commitment they made back in January as part of the infrastructure bill. It was very clearly stated that there would be no fracking in or under national parks.

Is it unusual, on such an issue of widespread concern, that there was no discussion in Parliament prior to the vote?

The decision has been implemented through a secondary legislation, so there’s not the same scrutiny as there would be on a bill of primary legislation. The government would argue that the issue has been considered by committees in both the House of Lords and the House of Commons, but because these are just small committees there was no widespread debate among MPs.

In the case of a bill, MPs can put forward amendments for discussion, but there was no option of that in this case because of the particularly parliamentary process that was used to get these regulations through.

And why do you think it was done like that? 

The government is very keen to push ahead with fracking, and this is just one example of that ambition. In terms of their wider agenda, they have released statements making it clear that, should local planning committees not process fracking applications quickly enough, these applications will be taken over by the government.

Why weren’t the public and campaigning organisations made aware of the vote sooner?

The draft regulations were published back in the summer, but there was no consultation on them – this particular parliamentary process isn’t one that makes it easy for people to engage in. We only found out late on Tuesday that the vote would take place on Wednesday. 

Do you know as yet which MPs voted for the proposals and which voted against?

My understanding is that there were only four Conservatives who voted against it, so it would have been largely Conservative MPs.  

Why are national parks so important in the fracking debate – do they cover areas that are particularly rich in shale gas?

National parks generally tend to have quite interesting geology, because that’s partly what contributes to making them beautiful. However, it isn’t only national parks that are affected by this decision. The day after MPs voted on regulations that would determine which areas would be protected from fracking on the surface, licenses were issued that included national parks but also Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs). It’s important to recognise that fracking could affect lots of other parts of the countryside – not just national parks.

So licenses have already been issued to companies with an interest in fracking beneath national parks and AONBs…that seems like a quick turnaround!

I’m sure it’s not a coincidence that the licenses were issued the day after the vote! The regulations that MPs voted in on Wednesday set out the areas that were to be protected from fracking on the surface – AONBs, Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), World Heritage sites, regions identified as important for groundwater and national parks – but in all of these fracking is to be allowed below a depth of 1,200 metres. The next part of the process involves licensing, which is when companies bid for the oil and gas rights in a particular area, and on Thursday the government announced licenses for several areas.

Which national parks did those licenses cover?

Parts of the Peak District and the North York Moors, as well as a small area on the edge of Exmoor. Previous licensing rounds have included other parts of the Peak District and North York Moors, as well as the South Downs. There is a moratorium on fracking in Scotland and Wales, so at the moment it will only be English national parks that may be affected. 

Is fracking already taking place in or around our national parks?

No, as far as I’m aware there hasn’t been a successful application of fracking yet in the UK.

What are your concerns about the likely impact of fracking developments on national parks?

Where companies have licenses to drill beneath national parks, they will obviously want to set up operations close to the edge of the protected areas. That could have a huge impact on the tranquility of national park margins and the light pollution in those areas. The other problem is that fracking generally involves lots of lorry movements, so that could result in increased traffic through national parks.

Are there likely to be any environmental impacts of deep drilling within the national parks themselves?

Well that’s really the wider concern – we don’t know enough about what the impacts of fracking are at depth on the geology and hydrology of a particular area. So we don’t know, for example, whether the vegetation on the surface might be affected. Our argument is that the government should have applied the precautionary principle of not going ahead with something that could be potentially environmentally damaging without knowing what impact it might have.

The vote might be done and dusted, but is there anything that the public can do to oppose these plans – at the planning stage, for example?

Yes. Any proposed operation will still need planning permission, even when a company has a license for a particular area. People living in the areas mentioned above should keep an eye out for applications that come forward. Remember that local authorities in the areas surrounding national parks have a duty to take account of what impact their decisions will have on the park, so this could be a potential pressure point.

How about people who don’t live in these areas but have a real interest in keeping national parks pristine because they enjoy walking or climbing there  is there anything they can do?

I’d encourage people to sign up for our newsletter and support our work. Clearly we are going to monitor what’s happening – it’s a little early to say what we’re going to do next, but we’d like to consider whether we can get this decision reversed in the future. 

How, in your opinion, can the need for cleaner domestic energy be balanced against the need to protect areas of incredible natural beauty like national parks?

We’re clear that national parks have to play their role in terms of energy infrastructure, but it needs to be appropriate in terms of scale and type to that setting. For instance, small-scale hydro schemes often do work well in national parks. The problem with fracking is both the potential scale of it, and also that we don’t know what the environmental impact might be.


As the climbing walls, crags and mountains start to open, we wanted to say thanks to every BMC member who supported us through the Coronavirus crisis.

From weekly Facebook Lives and GB Climbing home training videos, to our access team working to re-open the crags and fight for your mountain access, we couldn’t have made it without you.

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Anonymous User
18/12/2015
Another relevant issue, particularly where drilling will be very deep, is what are the plans for storing waste water which flows back to the surface and which can be radio active when returned from great depth? In America waste water has been sprayed on roads, which has run off into surrounding farmland and/or held in huge open pools. The waste water can be highly toxic, carcinogenic and radio active.
Anonymous User
18/12/2015
Really sad that the BMC is promoting this misinformation. This is not what we pay our membership fees for.
Anonymous User
18/12/2015
Will this Government be rembered in30 years time as Environmental Terrorists who poisoned our water
supplies and wrecked thousands of acres of our countryside!! Surely burning gas won't help to reduce our carbon emissions ? There is no guarantee that shale gas will bring cheaper energy bills,and more than likely most of it will be exported to provide profits for Camaron and Osbornes rich chums. There is enough evidence in USA Canada and Australia what environmental inpacts this industry has and those are massive contries compared to the UK. Yet those idiots sitting in Westminster chose to ignore it. Our country is too small for this industry, Fracking will be monitored by whom? You can bet it will be by the companies them selves with a code of practice!! The rubbish the Government spout about how good our record is in the gas and oil industry most of which is North Sea based doesn't apply here. This is a whole new ball game, Well done boys and girls thanks for your efforts.particularly those wimps in the Tory party who are afraid of their own shadows. Roll on the next elections and enjoy your time in the dole queue!! There is alot of angry people out here who s views you ignored but look out wait till People Power kicks in.
Anonymous User
22/12/2015
Well, I guess that if we need the energy produced by fracking, the national parks are some of the least populated areas and would therefore, cause the least damage to the population. I guess that's not what you want to hear but towns and cities provide the infrastructure for society in general and the country areas need to contribute where they can.
Anonymous User
22/12/2015
Well, I guess that if we need the energy produced by fracking, the national parks are some of the least populated areas and would therefore, cause the least damage to the population. I guess that's not what you want to hear but towns and cities provide the infrastructure for society in general and the country areas need to contribute where they can.
Anonymous User
08/01/2016
Fracking... the most important reason for the exploitation of the UK shale gas resources is to ensure UK energy security until alternative sources can provide sufficient energy to satisfy UK needs. Research on how to safely explore and then develop the resource is also vital. There is plenty of misinformation put out about the dangers of 'fracking' such as pollution of water supplies and causing of earth quakes. The technique of hydraulic fracturing has been used to enhance conventional oil and gas recovery for many years.
No where in the UK is the water table greater than 300m deep, drilling for gas is at depths of 2000 to 3000m or more to the source shale rocks. The shallow water table interval is protected from leakage by at least 4 steel and cemented casings.Water at high pressure containing some mainly silica compounds, ceramics and sand to keep the fractures open is pumped into the rock formations to displace the gas. Earthquakes if they occur at all are unlikely to be more than a tremor of heavy lorry passing close to your door.
The new drilling technology that has enable the shake rocks to be drilled is the ability to accurately
deviate the drill and target a rock formation. Drilling, should it ever be carried out in the vicinity of a National Park is likely to take place near the outer margins of a National Park with the drill following an angled exploratory hole under the Park. The completion works would be outside the Park.
After development of the gas the visible surface equipment is small, unlike a collection of windmills or fields of solar panels which are intrusive on the landscape and yield less and unreliable energy compared to a source of gas.
No geologist wishing to continue in employment would suggest drilling for gas under the Lake Disrtict, Snowdonia or Dartmoor National Parks parks these are not prospective. Similarly no company would consider a National Park as a place to explore as there are many more alternative locations with more suitable geology and with less public objections
Anonymous User
09/01/2016
It means that the government can sell the national park to housing developers after the facking is done as the country side is ruined .

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