I fully understand and appreciate people's concerns about fracking, but let me reassure you that the Government is creating a regulatory regime that provides clear, strong protections for the environment. With these in place, I think it is right that we explore and make use of shale gas and oil. The opportunity to extract this energy, as well as to secure jobs and investment, cannot be ignored.
Draft regulations ban fracking at depths of less than 1,200 meters below National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Broads and World Heritage Sites, and fracking wells cannot be sited in National Parks or other protected areas. Consent cannot be granted for drilling without an environmental impact assessment, and operators are required to monitor the level of methane in groundwater.
Sites of Special Scientific Interest: Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) are so widespread that it would be impractical to rule out drilling in them completely. They do, however, already enjoy strong protection under the existing planning and regulatory regime. These rules make it clear that development should not normally be permitted if it is likely to have a negative impact on a Site.
As fracking is a long distance operation with extensive reach up to 22 miles it should be possible, in my view, to avoid disruption to SSSIs.
Fracking will not take place within protected groundwater source areas, defined as land at a depth of less than 1,200m of the surface. Drinking water is not normally found below 400m. The Government's approach is guided by advice from the Environment Agency.
Proposals regarding underground access are about striking the right balance between addressing the legitimate concerns of landowners and realising the benefits of shale gas to the community and the economy. Consent will not be given for shale gas operations at less than 1,000 metres, which is much deeper than the access required by many other companies installing cables, pipes and tunnels.
I know that my colleagues in Government are working hard to ensure that we can access this new resource to help meet our country's energy needs in a safe and environmentally friendly way.
You may be interested to know I have been selected to the Environmental Audit Committee and with colleagues will hold the government to account.