Over half of Britain's landmass is now open to bids for drilling by fossil fuel companies seeking "unconventional hydrocarbons," government ministers announced on Monday, granting millions of British residents the prospect of fracking "on their doorstep."
Though the official announcement, along with subsequent media reporting, claimed that the government had created expanded guidelines for shale gas exploration in national parks and world heritage sites, a Greenpeace analysis found that the new rules "actually make it easier" for fracking companies to drill in these protected places by entrusting the Communities minister, currently the pro-fracking Eric Pickles, with the sole authority to determine if the request meets the criteria of being an "exceptional circumstance."
Even the facade of protecting these "special places" proves that "ministers accept that fracking risks impacts on the local environment," said Friends of the Earth energy campaigner Tony Bosworth.
Further, as The Ecologist's Oliver Tickell points out, the position is "far worse for wildlife sites [...] which are to receive no specific protection at all."
“The Government’s desperate obsession with shale gas will continue to send shock waves across the UK, with millions of people now facing the prospect of fracking on their doorstep," Bosworth continued. "If we want to boost energy security, tackle rising fuel prices and cut carbon we should be investing in efficiency and renewable power."
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The announcement marks the opening of the latest round of bidding for oil and gas exploration permits, which is the first of three steps in the process of permitting for shale extraction wells.
Along with the expanded territory, the government has provided numerous incentives "to help kick-start the industry," including "tax breaks, payments of £100,000 [or nearly $170,000] per site plus a 1% share of revenue to local communities," BBC reports.
In the official announcement, Business and Energy Minister Matthew Hancock said that fracking for shale gas is likely to be a "key part of the UK’s answer to climate change."
Greenpeace created this map to show where licenses have been issued: blue indicates water source protection zones, the purple is groundwater safeguard zones and the green is national parks. UK citizens can voice their disapproval of the new leases here.