Public opposition to fracking (hydraulic fracturing), a controversial process in shale gas mining, has forced changes to policy in England. According to an analysis by The Guardian, fracking is set to be banned on two-fifths of the land being offered in England for shale gas mining by the government.
The new protections rule out fracking in national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty, sites of special scientific interest, and groundwater source protection zones.
The Guardian's report of February 2 stated: " Ministers were forced to accept Labour's new environmental rules last week to avoid a rebellion by Conservative and LibDem backbench MPs, many of whom are facing opposition to fracking from constituents." (The Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrat Party are the parties currently in government in the United Kingdom.)
The decision has been welcomed by those opposed to fracking. Friends of the Earth campaigner Donna Hume said, "The fracking industry is in retreat, with public opposition forcing MPs to respond as the election approaches. But it would be cynical of ministers to accept one day that no fracking can take place in any groundwater protection area, and then try to water it down the next day. Any attempt to play politics with rules to protect people's drinking water would be met with contempt by the public."
Other opponents of fracking are suggesting that if it's unsafe in one area, why is it not ruled out elsewhere. Louise Hutchins, Greenpeace UK, said, "The shale industry's seemingly irresistible advance is now looking more and more resistible every day. Unless ministers can explain why fracking is too risky for the South Downs but perfectly safe in the Lancashire countryside, the next obvious step is to ban this controversial technique from the whole of the UK."
Recently a committee of senior MPs, including former Conservative environment secretary Caroline Spelman called for a UK wide moratorium on fracking arguing that fracking was incompatible with the nation's climate change targets and brought risks to health and the environment. This proposal was defeated in the Commons (the UK lower house of parliament).
It is significant that the Scottish Government recently imposed a moratorium on fracking.
Would the English changes have occurred if an election had not been imminent? Probably not. There's no doubt that the imminence of an election forces politicians to consider what their constituents want rather than just pandering to the big end of town. We could do with more of that in NSW - particularly in relation to gas mining - as our state election approaches.