The Department for Energy and Climate Change is currently undertaking a consultation on the Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA). The HRA is a legal requirement to ensure that protected habitats will not be impacted by adverse effects on their integrity by shale gas operations, including fracking. In Somerset this mainly means impacts on the protected areas between Clevedon and Minehead and parts of the Somerset Levels. These protected areas are wetlands and are protected by the international convention, UK and EU law – the Ramsar Convention, Habitats Conservation Regulations 2010 and the European Habitats and Birds Directives. The areas are protected because they are internationally recognised as important sites for biodiversity.
Recent changes to the law mean that fracking can take place underneath all of these areas but the HRA accepts that fracking operations would have a negative impact if they were to take place on the surface inside the protected areas. This is stating the obvious as these are strictly protected areas. After hundreds of pages of inpenetrable maps and analysis the HRA concludes that surface operations could take place anywhere outside of the protected areas without adverse impacts, subject to a few non-biding licence advice notices. The HRA provides no option not to issue a licence no matter what the environmental conditions.
The government has been advised by their former Chief Scientific Advisor that exploitation of shale gas would lead to additional cumulative greenhouse gas emissions and further global warming unless displaced fuel is not burned. The government can’t stop Qatar selling their gas to others if we don’t buy it. Global warming causes sea level rise and sea level rise is expected to remove three quarters of the intertidal habitat in the Severn Estuary over the next 60 years. Exploiting shale gas will therefore have a very plausible detrimental impact on these protected coastal habitats which the government has a legal obligation to protect. The HRA doesn’t even mention climate change or sea level rise, despite DECC being concerned about sea level rise and flooding in relation to Hinkley Point power station – which is slap bang in the middle of the Somerset assessment area. The HRA also relegates surface contamination from leaks & spillage and potential well failure to a stage of fracking operations that they say is not relevant to the assessment. It clearly is.
The assessment closes at 11:45 am on the 29th September. You can respond to the assessment and make your voice heard.
The HRA documents are voluminous and difficult to understand. You can see Frack Free Chew Valley’s response in summary and in detail by following these links.
NB The government is filtering the best scientific advice from its Advisors and Parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee through the prism of a self appointed industry funded ‘task force’ and is cherry picking evidence to justify pressing ahead with shale gas no matter what. The issues of climate change and sea level rise are just massive to the future of Somerset and its effects are already being felt. The HRA ignores this and the well known critical drainage situation both on the coast and inland.