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Government calls for faster planning decisions on shale gas

13 August 2015

Shale gas planning applications will be fast-tracked through a new, dedicated planning process, under measures announced by DECC today.

Aerial view of a Cuadrilla drilling site (photo courtesy of Cuadrilla)

Energy and Climate Change secretary, Amber Rudd and Communities secretary, Greg Clark today announced plans that will ensure local people have a strong say over the development of shale exploration in their area – but will ensure communities and the industry benefit from a swift process for developing safe and suitable new sites.

Today’s measures include identifying councils that repeatedly fail to determine oil and gas applications within the 16 week statutory time frame, with subsequent applications potentially decided by the Communities Secretary.

“As a One Nation Government, we are backing the safe development of shale gas because it’s good for jobs giving hard working people and their families more financial security, good for our energy security and part of our plan to decarbonise the economy," says Amber Rudd. "We need more secure, home grown energy supplies – and shale gas must play a part in that.

“To ensure we get this industry up and running we can’t have a planning system that sees applications dragged out for months, or even years on end. Oversight by the Health and Safety Executive and the Environment Agency of shale developments makes our commitment to safety and the environment crystal clear. We now need, above all else, a system that delivers timely planning decisions and works effectively for local people and developers.”

“There is huge potential right across the country for safe and sustainable use of shale gas, to provide a clean long term energy source and create British jobs and growth," says Greg Clark.

“People’s safety and the environment will remain paramount and communities will always be involved in planning applications but no one benefits from uncertainty caused by delays in planning decisions. By fast tracking any appropriate applications today’s changes will tackle any potential hold up in the system.”

The Government has made shale gas a national priority, believing it will help to move the UK to a low-carbon economy. But ministers are concerned that shale applications are being frustrated by "slow and confused" decision making amongst councils.

Today’s measures will mean ministers will consider calling in any application for shale exploration, and will recover appeals on a case-by-case basis.

Local communities will remain fully involved in planning decisions with any shale application – whether decided by councils or government. And demanding planning rules to ensure shale development happens only at appropriate sites remain unchanged. Today’s measures include:

- The Communities secretary actively considering calling in on a case by case basis shale planning applications and considering recovering appeals;
- Identifying councils that repeatedly fail to determine oil and gas applications within the 16 week statutory timeframe requirement (unless applicants agree to a longer period). - Under-performing councils’ gas and oil planning applications could be determined by the Communities secretary;
- Adding shale applications as a specific criterion for recovery of appeals, to ensure no application can ‘fall through the cracks’;
- Ensuring planning call ins and appeals involving shale applications are prioritised by the Planning Inspectorate; and
- Taking forward work on revising permitted development rights for drilling boreholes for groundwater monitoring.

The government has already intimated that communities hosting shale gas developments should share in the financial returns they generate, and it says it will be presenting proposals later in the year on the design of a new sovereign wealth fund.

UK exploration and production company, Cuadrilla gave notice of an appeal last month to Lancashire County Council’s decisions in June to refuse planning consent for two applications for temporary shale gas exploration sites. The applications sought planning permission to drill, hydraulically fracture and test the flow of gas from up to four exploration wells on each of two sites, one at Preston New Road and the other at Roseacre Wood.

Francis Egan, CEO of Cuadrilla, said his company had given careful consideration to appeal the planning decisions taken by Lancashire County Council.

"We recognise that onshore shale gas exploration still feels relatively new in the UK and we remain committed to engaging with local communities to reassure them that exploratory operations can and will be carried out safely and in an environmentally responsible way," he adds.

"I understand that some people would prefer that we did not appeal but I am confident that we will demonstrate to Lancashire and the UK that shale gas exploration and fracking is not only safe but represents a very real opportunity to create jobs, fuel businesses, heat UK homes and stimulate significant local economic growth.”

Dr Jenifer Baxter, head of Energy and Environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, welcomed the government's decision..

“This is a welcome development as it is important that government steps up efforts to move our energy future away from coal," she says. "Gas, and in this case shale gas, provides an alternative that will have a real impact on reducing the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions.  However, a vital part of ensuring a joined up approach to creating our 21st century energy infrastructure is ensuring local planning committees have the tools and information to make decisions for their communities.

“The Government must create an environment whereby local authorities are equipped to deal with decision making on large energy infrastructure and engineering projects.  This could be achieved through collaborative policy making and the provision of easy to understand information about fracking engineering processes and risks.

“Hydraulic fracking is not a ‘silver bullet’, but developing projects in the UK could play a part in securing the country’s future energy demands, this is combined with the opportunities for local communities to create a multi-generational industry that promotes engineering skills and regional economic growth.

“It is vital that industry, Government and academia work together to help inform the public about the precautions being taken to ensure that fracking projects are safe. Approved projects will be closely monitored by both the Environment Agency and the Health and Safety Executive to ensure environmental impact assessments are carried out and appropriate well depth and integrity is maintained.”



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