Many people have contacted me recently regarding the Government's regulations on fracking. I share their concerns about the Government's weak regulations, which allow for fracking to take place below national parks and other protected areas, and which I voted against on 16th December 2015.
When the Infrastructure Bill was being debated during the last Parliament, my Shadow Frontbench colleagues tabled an amendment to introduce tough environmental standards before any shale gas drilling could go ahead. This included a ban on fracking in areas where drinking water is collected and protected sensitive areas like our national parks or important wildlife sites.
At the time, the Coalition Government accepted this amendment. However, Ministers backtracked and tabled a redrafted amendment which removed a number of protections, notably the ban on drilling in or under national parks and where drinking water supplies are too close by. Unfortunately these weaker regulations formed part of the Infrastructure Act.
The current Government carried out a consultation between 4th November and 16th December 2015 on proposals to prevent fracking from new or existing wells drilled at the surface in specified protected areas. I was pleased by this Government U-turn but I appreciate groups such as Greenpeace remain concerned that the Government still intends to allow fracking to take place under these areas, and that in order to access shale gas reserves below the ground, fracking rigs will need to be located along the edges of our National Parks and other protected areas to drill down and then horizontally across. I share these concerns and believe there are still huge concerns over the environmental impact, including light, air, water and noise pollution.
Unfortunately, the Government appears set against giving all MPs the opportunity to debate this issue. Indeed, on 16th December 2015 there was a vote on the Government's weak fracking regulations without any debate. Because Government MPs supported the regulations, they were passed by a majority of 37.
I believe we should have a moratorium on fracking in Britain until we can be sure it is safe and won't present intolerable risks to our environment. In my view the Government is ignoring people's legitimate concerns and imposing fracking on communities. I will continue to press the Government to listen to genuine and widely held concerns about fracking.
Vernon's position on the new fracking proposals
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