U.K. Proposes Rules to Let Fracking Under National Parks

The U.K. proposed new rules for hydraulic fracturing that would allow drillers to frack for oil and gas under national parks and UNESCO sites, drawing criticism from environmentalists who called the plan “outrageous.”

The draft regulations would ban wells at the surface in national parks while allowing explorers such as Cuadrilla Resources Ltd. to drill horizontally from outside the areas to access oil and gas under them, the Department of Energy and Climate Change said Thursday in a statement on its website.

“The draft regulations set out further protections for groundwater and national parks, areas of outstanding national beauty, the Broads and world heritage sites, ensuring the process of hydraulic fracturing can only take place below 1,200 meters (3,937 feet) in these areas,” the department said.

Despite the support of Prime Minister David Cameron’s government, frackers have been stymied in attempts to drill in the U.K. amid local opposition to a technique that involves blasting a mix of water, sand and chemicals into rock to release oil and gas.

The latest rules suggest a partial backtrack by the government after Energy Secretary Amber Rudd told lawmakers in January “we have agreed an outright ban on fracking in national parks, sites of special scientific interest and areas of outstanding natural beauty.”

“It is outrageous that the government has given the green light to fracking under national parks,” said Rose Dickinson, energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth. “With fracking halted in Scotland and Wales due to the high risks, banned in New York state due to the ‘significant’ threat to health, abandoned in much of the South East of England and now rejected in Lancashire, it’s clear that there is overwhelming opposition wherever fracking is proposed.”

‘Long-Established Record’

U.K. Onshore Oil & Gas, the industry body, said in an e-mailed statement that it has a “long-established track record of developing oil and gas fields in sensitive areas.”

The industry “has successfully operated in national parks (South Downs, North York Moors), areas of outstanding natural beauty (Dorset AONB, Surrey Hills, High Weald and Lincolnshire Wolds), nature reserves (Beckingham Marshes), in the middle of a golf course and in a housing estate at Gainsborough,” UKOOG said.

No fracking has taken place since the U.K. lifted a moratorium in December 2012 even with companies such as Cuadrilla, IGas Energy Plc and Ineos Group lining up to tap the shale for oil and gas. Last month, Lancashire Council rejected two applications by Cuadrilla to drill at sites in the northern county.