Landowners and farmers have lost the right to be notified if fracking takes place under their land, following amendments rushed through by government.
The outright ban on fracking in protected areas such as National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty has also been lost.
Parliament had previously agreed 13 conditions in the controversial Infrastructure Bill that would have to be satisfied before fracking activities could take place.
But amendments supported by the government and passed on Wednesday (11 February) removed or altered these, allowing the secretary of state to bypass conditions and effectively redraw the boundaries of where fracking can occur.
MPs accused the government of rushing through the changes, giving them just one hour to discuss and vote on the amendments.
What it means for fracking and the countryside
MPs voted 257 to 203 in favour of the following changes:
- Landowners and occupiers of land will not have to be notified if fracking is to take place under their land.
- “Protected areas” and “protected groundwater areas” will be exempt from fracking – but it will be up to the secretary of state to specify what these areas are. This is despite both types of protected area already being clearly defined.
- Fracking will be allowed “under” protected areas. This means a well could sit outside the area but drilling could go horizontally underneath it. MPs were concerned that smaller protected areas could become “ringed by shale gas”.
- Drilling at depths of less than 1,000m is not allowed – but the secretary of state is allowed to override this limit.
- Boreholes for monitoring purposes may be granted permitted development. This is effectively a fast-track route avoiding more lengthy permissions.
- There is still not provision for compensation for a landowner.
- The secretary of state will be allowed to grant consent even if all the conditions are not met.
However, Amber Rudd, parliamentary undersecretary for energy and climate change, insisted that this last point was “not a get-out provision” for the secretary of state.
“[It is] instead an additional safeguard to ensure that my department refuses consent if there is something else wrong with the proposal,” she said.
Labour MP Andrew Miller, criticised the government for going back on what MPs had agreed and of “diluting” the conditions.
There was now no opportunity to “repair the damage the government have done”, added Labour MP Tom Greatrex, who accused the government of “cherry picking” the range of protections for the countryside.
Referring to the removal of the condition that would have ensured fracking companies notify landowners of activities under their land, the CLA said: “It would be entirely wrong for a shale gas operator to conduct fracking below a person’s land without their knowledge.
“It is now incumbent on the industry to work with government to ensure that all those whose land is subject to fracking are aware it is taking place and receive fair compensation.”
The Infrastructure Bill became law on Thursday (12 February).