MEP says fracking U-turn hugely costly for South West and incompatible with climate commitments

Molly Scott Cato, South West Green MEP, has blasted the Conservative government for voting through controversial proposals to allow fracking under National Parks and other protected areas.

The vote in the House of Commons today [1] means fracking will now be allowed beneath National Parks, Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), Groundwater Protection Zones, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) and World Heritage sites.

Greens say that many of the UK’s most fragile and treasured landscapes will be exposed to noise, air, light and water pollution, as a result of fracking rigs being situated around the edges of these protected areas.

The vote today will enable fracking to take place 1,200 metres below protection zones, but prevent any drilling itself taking place inside protected areas. This reverses a previous government pledge that no drilling would take place under such landscapes. Dr Scott Cato accused the government of an inexcusable U-turn. She said:

“In the South West, we have a number of areas that are protected by national and, in some cases, international law. It is also a region that relies heavily on tourism, so this decision could prove extremely costly not just for our precious environment and landscapes but also for our rural economy.

“The Government knows that they won the last election because of the vote in the South West. It is for all of us to remind them that they can lose the next one here too, especially if hugely unpopular fracking goes ahead in our beautiful region.

“It is of particular concern that this decision has been sneaked through just ahead of the Christmas recess and without a proper debate in Parliament, as the Government pursues it’s dangerous and irresponsible dash for gas.

“It is incredible that this decision comes just days after signing a ground-breaking climate change agreement in Paris. Driving forwards a new fossil fuel industry in the UK is simply not compatible with a pledge to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees and decarbonise our economy. If the UK government is really committed to keeping its end of the Paris deal, it must rethink its support for fracking and invest in safe, clean, renewable energy instead.”

Just 18 MPs have had the opportunity to debate the proposals, in a Delegated Legislation Committee on 27 October. Today’s vote did not allow for a full debate in the House of Commons.

Dr Scott Cato is opposed to fracking in all areas and believes strongly that we must leave fossil fuels in the ground. She recently recorded a video message on this subject setting out clearly her opposition to shale gas extraction. Greens support a Europe-wide moratorium on fracking and Green MP, Caroline Lucas, unsuccessfully proposed a fracking ban amendment to the Infrastructure Bill earlier this year.

In August, some 22 licence blocks for oil and gas extraction were issued across Dorset, Wilts and Somerset alone, impacting on many sensitive and designated areas, including the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site, Poole Harbour, The Quantock Hills, Exmoor National Park, and Salisbury Plain to name just a few.

A number of areas of designation are potentially affected including SSSI, RAMSAR, Special Protected Area (SPA), Special Areas of Conservation (SAC), national parks and a world heritage site (WHS).

Dr Scott Cato has called on people from across the region to write to their local member of parliament and to the leader of the council at their local Minerals Planning Authority (either the county council or equivalent unitary authority) as well as their local councillors to express their considerable concerns about this matter.


[1] The Draft Onshore Hydraulic Fracturing (Protected Areas) Regulations 2015: