Ministers will give the go-ahead on Monday for a big expansion of fracking across Britain that will allow drilling in national parks and other protected areas in “exceptional circumstances”, The Guardian has reported.
The government will invite firms to bid for onshore oil and gas licences for the first time in six years, with about half of the country advertised for exploration.
Ministers are also clarifying the rules on when drilling can take place in national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONBs) and world heritage sites, following calls by environmental campaigners for an outright ban on drilling in them.
In a tightening of the guidance, the government will ask energy firms to submit an environmental statement that is “particularly comprehensive and detailed” if they want to frack on or near protected countryside, forcing them to demonstrate their understanding of local sensitivities.
It will make clear that the applications “should be refused in these areas other than in exceptional circumstances and in the public interest”.
In addition, Eric Pickles, the communities secretary, is likely to make a final decision on more appeals related to protected areas over the next 12 months, instead of leaving it to the planning watchdog.
It is the first time the government has offered up areas of the UK for onshore exploration since experts confirmed the scale of the UK’s shale resources and protests erupted in places from Blackpool to Balcombe about the potential for environmental damage.
Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, a Tory communities minister, will present the licensing round in the House of Lords , as MPs have broken up for their summer break.
The licences are the first step towards exploration but firms will also have to obtain planning consent, permits from the Environment Agency and a sign-off from the Health and Safety Executive.
Over the weekend, Matthew Hancock, the Conservative energy minister, said he wanted to speed up the process so companies are able to start drilling within six months of putting in applications. He also said the guidance published on Monday would “protect Britain’s great national parks and outstanding landscapes”.