EU referendum: Brexit will lead to fracking free-for-all as environmental regulation will be up for grabs, experts say

The government has suggested in the past that fracking legislation is an unnecessary burden – and now might finally be able to remove it

Andrew Griffin
Tuesday 21 June 2016 16:12 BST
(Getty Images)

Fracking could be fast-tracked across the country if Britain votes to leave the EU, according to experts.

Most of the rules that regulate the use of fracking – which campaigners argue can put people at huge risk – come from European directives, according to analysis by Greenpeace’s Energydesk. And as a result almost all of them could be undone if Britain leaves the European Union.

The current government has repeatedly suggested that it thinks regulation on fracking is too restrictive and has looked to influence Europe to allow oil and gas companies more freedom to undertake the controversial technique.

The current rules are intended to make sure that fracking and other activities don’t contaminate the water, pollute the air or use unsafe chemicals, as well as other protections.

European rules also require that companies assess the damage they could do to the environment and conduct consultations with those living in areas that might be affected by fracking.

But those protections could be easily removed just with secondary legislation and many of those that would be in power after a Leave vote would be likely to do so, according to campaigners at Greenpeace.

"Weak and patchy as they are, the UK's fracking regulations could be even worse without the bedrock provided by over a dozen separate EU directives,” said Hannah Martin, energy campaigner at Greenpeace. “If Britain leaves the EU, this last bulwark of environmental protection would be at the mercy of a government that has stopped at nothing to help the fracking industry.

Ms Martin pointed out that many of the environmental protections that cover the UK at the moment come from the EU – all of which could be removed in the event of a Brexit.

“Being part of the EU means we have the world's largest body of environmental law to protect the quality of the air we breathe and the water we drink,” said Ms Martin. “We should think twice before giving it up."

British voters would also no longer be able to appeal any of the changes of those laws through Europe, since the UK would no longer be a part of the EU courts system or other legal mechanisms.

David Cameron and the government have repeatedly looked to minimise the regulations on fracking imposed by the EU and cut down on the “red tape” that limits the oil and gas industry.

How Fracking works

In a comment piece in 2013, Mr Cameron said that fracking had become national debate in Britain – “one that I’m determined to win”. He wrote that the regulatory system in the UK was far too stringent and that he would look to roll it back while making the case that fracking was “safe”.

And the same opinions have been stated by many of the most prominent Leave campaigners. Boris Johnson has said that “no stone should be left untracked” and decisions to allow fracking under national parks have been supported by Michael Gove.

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