BY KATIE - MYGREENPOD, 22 August '15

Government announces 1,000 square miles of England will be opened up in shale industry push

The government has announced that 27 blocks of land will be offered to oil and gas companies through a new wave of fracking licences.

Each ‘block’ is an area of land that typically measures 10km x 10km, meaning the licences awarded under the 4th Onshore Oil and Gas Licensing Round will open 2,700km2 up for fracking.

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Fracking locations

The 27 blocks cover northern England and the Midlands, including areas near Nottingham, Sheffield, Lincoln and Preston. The government decided not to award any new licences in Scotland or Wales as part of the 14th round.

A further 132 sites – covering 5,000 square miles that include parts of the West Country, the south coast, the North East and the North West – will be assessed under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 before any of the licences are formally offered to oil and gas companies.

‘Opening up huge swathes of Northern England to a fracking blitz will only provoke more anger and controversy, because wherever fracking has been proposed, it has been opposed by local people.

‘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.’

Andrew Pendleton, Friends of the Earth head of campaigns

Fracking and nature reserves

The RSPB has called on the government to introduce new measures that rule out fracking within all protected areas, including Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), before handing out any new fracking licence offers.

The 27 blocks of land that will be formally offered to fracking companies for exploration include 53 SSSIs and three RSPB nature reserves: Dearne Valley, Fairburn Ings and Langford Lowfields.

‘We have agreed an outright ban on fracking in national parks [and] sites of special scientific interest.’

Amber Rudd, energy secretary, January 2015

A risky business

This is the latest in a string of announcements that have put the natural environment at risk from a growing fracking industry.

In early August it was announced that the government wants planning authorities to speed up the fracking application process. This came only days after the government reneged on a promise, made by Amber Rudd in February, to ban fracking on SSSIs.

‘The government is today doling out new fracking licences for areas of the UK that put some of our most precious wildlife sites under threat. Sites of Special Scientific Interest, such as Attenborough Gravel Pits and Fairburn & Newton Ings, are up for grabs for fracking companies who will be able to apply for planning permission to frack anywhere within these newly licensed areas.

‘SSSIs are some of our most important wildlife sites. Species such as kingfisher, bittern and goldeneye could be put at risk in these special places and should be protected from the Government’s fracking plans. Questions need to be asked why the government has begun handing out new licences before figuring out how it’s going to protect our most sensitive sites.’

Matt Williams, RSPB Climate Change Policy Officer 

Improving regulations

In the near future the government is expected to publish more detail on how it will fulfil a promise to ban fracking in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, National Parks, World Heritage Sites and the Broads.

This list of protection doesn’t not go far enough, and should cover all protected areas, including Sites of Special Scientific Interest.

‘The government should introduce new measures that rule out fracking within all protected sites, including SSSIs, before handing out any new licences. This is just the first of a number of improvements that should be made to the regulation around fracking; changes that are badly needed to protect people and Nature.’

Matt Williams, RSPB Climate Change Policy Officer 

Public consultation

The Habitats consultation, which covers those blocks that require further environmental assessment, enables the public and other interested parties to submit responses by the end of September. The Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) will then consider the results of the consultation before offering any further blocks.

Subject to the outcome of that consultation, the OGA will announce offers for the second group of licence blocks later in the year. The licences for all offered blocks will then be granted after the terms and conditions have been finalised.

Click here to view Frack Off Extreme Energy Action Network‘s map of UK fracking sites.