SSSIs and RSPB reserves at risk from fracking

18th August 2015


Over 50 SSSIs and three RSPB reserves are located on land where new licences for onshore oil and gas drilling by the government have been announced.

The Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) has formally offered 27 blocks of land to companies hoping to exploit both conventional sources of oil and gas and unconventional sources through fracking.

These blocks, which are typically 10km² in size, do not contain any sites designated under European conservation regulations and therefore do not need any detailed assessments under the habitats regulations, the OGA said.

In June, the government reneged on a pledge to protect sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs) from fracking. The blocks offered by the OGA contain 53 SSSIs and the RSPB reserves of Fairburn Ings and Dearne Valley in Yorkshire, and Langford Lowfields in Nottinghamshire, according to analysis by the RSPB.

“A few weeks ago the government dropped protection from fracking for SSSIs and this is the manifestation of that,” said RSPB climate change policy officer Matt Williams.

“This sends a worrying signal about what the government thinks of the importance of SSSIs. We think they should be ranked at the same level as AONBs and national parks,” he said.

The OGA has launched a consultation on a further 132 blocks that are located within European conservation sites designated under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010. These have been ranked according to the impact that one or more activities associated with oil and gas exploration and production could have.

The OGA has proposed a sliding scale of conditions depending on the expected impact. Where a risk of potential damage to a site has been identified, developers will not be allowed to explore or drill at or near the surface. However, these activities could still take place underground, according to the consultation.

In total, the government received 95 licence applications for 295 blocks in England, Scotland and Wales. It took forward applications for 159 of these following geotechnical reviews, scrutiny of operator competency, financial viability, capacity and environmental awareness. It also removed sites in Scotland and Wales from the process as decisions on onshore oil and gas are due to be devolved.

Ken Cronin, chief executive of trade body UKOOG said: “We welcome the strong support from the industry with an increased number of licences applied for and offered and welcome new players into the UK industry for the first time.”

UK energy minister Lord Bourne said: “As part of our long-term plan to build a more resilient economy, create jobs and deliver secure energy supplies, we continue to back our onshore oil and gas industry and the safe development of shale gas in the UK. This is why the OGA has moved quickly to confirm the winners of licence blocks which do not need further environmental assessment.”

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