Fracking can take place in national parks because the visual intrusion it causes is minimal and the environmental risks have been exaggerated, says the Environment Agency’s outgoing chairman.
Lord Smith of Finsbury said that provided fracking was properly regulated it would be safe and “very useful” in helping Britain reduce its reliance on imported gas and dirty coal-fired power stations.
The comments by the former Labour cabinet minister are significant because he is highly respected among environmental groups which oppose fracking.
The National Trust, RSPB, Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust and the Angling Trust have called for fracking to be banned in Britain’s 15 national parks.
The South Downs National Park Authority is considering an application by Celtique Energie to drill an exploratory shale well near Fernhurst, West Sussex.
If granted, it could prompt many more applications in national parks.
Other national parks that could be targeted by fracking companies are the North York Moors, the Peak District, Brecon Beacons, New Forest, Yorkshire Dales and Lake District.
Next month, the government is to launch a new onshore licensing round which will see thousands more square miles made available for shale gas and oil exploration. On Monday, the British Geological Survey estimate of shale gas and oil reserves in the central belt of Scotland is expected to be published.