Moors, hills, national parks
The areas of beauty where fracking licences encroach
Licences for fracking encroach on some of the most environmentally protected areas in England, including national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty.
As the government lifts the ban on drilling for shale gas, the Guardian has analysed where drilling might take place in the months and years to come.
There are 151 petroleum exploration and development licences already granted that would allow companies to pursue fracking. They stretch from Surrey and Sussex to Somerset, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Lancashire and Yorkshire. Key protected areas in England are either overlapped by the exploration permits or adjacent to them.
Nearly half the licences granted are in Yorkshire, with some in parts of the North York Moors national park, including in Rishi Sunak’s constituency of Richmond.
In the Peak District, exploration permits have been granted adjacent to the national park. Other licences overlap some of the most environmentally protected zones in Europe, formerly known as the Natura 2000 network, which are designed to protect the most threatened species and habitats. These include fracking licences that overlap the Peak District Moors, an environmental special protection area (SPA), and the South Pennine Moors, a special area of conservation (SAC).
Some exploration licences overlap parts of the South Downs national park, and licences to drill for shale gas cover areas of outstanding natural beauty, including blocks that partly overlap the Lincolnshire Wolds and the Quantock Hills, where oak woodlands are also specially protected areas. Fracking permits also cover highly protected wetlands in England known as Ramsar sites.
Before the moratorium on fracking, which was introduced in 2019 after research raised fresh fears about earthquakes, the protections from drilling in environmentally sensitive areas were opaque. There was no outright ban on drilling in protected areas such as national parks or sites of special scientific interest. The rules allowed fracking 1,200 metres below national parks and SSSIs as long as the drilling took place from outside the boundaries. This was despite an earlier promise of an outright ban on the controversial technique for extracting shale gas in such areas.
Tom Fyans, director of campaigns and policy at the countryside charity CPRE, said: “To put the jewels in the crown of the English landscape at risk of collateral damage from fracking adds insult to injury. It’s particularly craven in light of the government’s previous commitment to improve our natural environment and encourage more of us to visit the countryside.”
Environmental concerns over fracking include earthquake risk, increased air pollution and potential contamination of groundwater.
All of the 151 licences granted to a string of companies could be used for fracking exploration, but currently 47 are specifically for the purposes of drilling for shale gas, according to figures from the North Sea Transition Authority.
The fracking permits held by Ineos include blocks that cover parts of the North York Moors. South Western Energy Ltd has licensed areas encroaching on the Quantock Hills and Mendip Hills in Somerset, both areas of outstanding natural beauty.
Ineos said the government had to treat fracking as a national infrastructure priority. “We look forward to working constructively with government to deliver timely shale gas production in the national interest, as well as working closely with local communities to ensure they share in the benefits of domestic shale gas development.” Cuadrilla did not want to comment while South Western Energy Ltd was unavailable.