The Government was tonight forced to toughen fracking regulations in the face of a backbench rebellion that would have halted the fledgling UK industry in its tracks.
Ministers agreed to an outright ban on fracking in all national parks, sites of special interest and areas of outstanding natural beauty – after previously proposing only a partial ban which would have still allowed for drilling in “exceptional circumstances”.
The Government gave in to Labour by agreeing to close 13 “loopholes” the opposition had identified. It made the concession ahead of a Commons vote on fracking legislation in which a Labour amendment which would have significantly disrupted development of the industry looked set to be passed – thanks to the support of many Tory MPs.
The changes include preventing drilling in areas where drinking water collects, and removing a legislative clause allowing “any substance” to be injected into the ground.
“This is a huge U-turn by the Government and a big victory for the protection of Britain’s environment,” said Caroline Flint, Labour’s shadow Energy Secretary.
By agreeing to Labour’s demands, the Government was able to avoid its proposed amendment going to a vote – which could have resulted in an embarrassing defeat.
Donna Hume, of Friends of the Earth, said: “Public opinion and increasing concern from MPs has forced the Government into retreat on fracking. Everywhere fracking is proposed, local communities say ‘no’.
“But these concessions do not go far enough. These changes would not prevent fracking getting the green light in Lancashire, despite overwhelming opposition from local communities.”
The regulatory retreat is a blow for David Cameron and George Osborne who have championed fracking as a economic opportunity and source of energy security.
Before the vote yesterday, the Prime Minister said: “I want to see unconventional [shale] gas properly exploited in our country. I think there are good reasons for doing this. We want to have greater energy security, we want to keep prices down, we also want to tackle climate change,” he said, alluding to the fact that shale gas is more environmentally friendly than coal.”Reuse content