In response to questions about the Government's recent decision to allow fracking licenses in protected landscapes, including Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Quantock Hills AONB Manager Chris Edwards writes:
"The northern end of the Quantock Hills AONB is included in an area which the Government has licenced for commercial exploration for oil and gas. The law does not allow drilling rigs or platforms to be built within AONBs, however it does now allow fracking to take place under AONBs with the plant outside the AONB boundary. A company wishing to develop this option would need landowner consent, Environment Agency assessments and planning permission before any drilling could be carried out. The area involved includes the coastal areas of the Somerset Levels (Bridgwater Bay National Nature Reserve) and part of the Mendip Hills AONB. There are, with good reason, multiple environmental designations in place across the identified zone giving rise to major cause for concern on that front. Additionally the zone includes Hinkley Point nuclear power station (s) which also raises concern in respect of any interference with ground stability.
The granting of this license indicates that the government feels this area has potential for fracking. However, any commercial interest would need to take into account the length of time it would take to gain the necessary data and permissions. The consultation processes required would need to allow an appropriate scale of scrutiny and campaigning to take place. It would appear that fracking in this area could lead to the non-designated rural landscape becoming industrialised in an unacceptable way, with the unknown potential of additional consequences, including land stability.
The Quantock Hills AONB Service will certainly be discussing the risks and potential responses with colleagues, environmental groups and local bodies in the near future."
Georgie Grant - January 2016-->