UK Government unveils new plans for 'faster and fairer' fracking decisions

Galtero Lara
May 18, 2018

Planned changes to the planning process, including allowing drilling for gas as "permitted development", would mean that fracking companies could drill straight away, minus the need for a planning application, environmental impact assessment or proper local democratic participation. "We believe that gas has a key part to play in meeting these objectives both now and in the future..."

The new measures sparked immediate protests from green groups who have long argued fracking presents an unacceptable risk of local environmental damage and could lock the United Kingdom into a new generation of fossil fuel infrastructure at a time when it is committed to deep decarbonisation.

Weaning Britain off natural gas imports is one of the driving forces behind government support for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which extracts gas from rocks broken up at high pressure with water and chemicals.

Permission to frack would also be the remit of a central government agency and not local councils; the representatives of local people.

"Despite the welcome improvements in efficiency and innovation from companies operating in the North Sea, the ongoing decline in our offshore gas production has meant that the United Kingdom has gone from being a net exporter of gas in 2003 to importing over half (53%) of gas supplies in 2017 and estimates suggest we could be importing 72% of our gas by 2030", Greg Clark, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and James Brokenshire, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, said in a statement on Thursday.

"Dr Frackenstein's sickly monster is lying on the operating table and the government is trying to jolt some life into it in spite of huge national opposition and a growing body of scientific evidence against fracking".

"We are pleased it is also recognised, as we ourselves are proving in Lancashire, that shale gas can and does deliver important economic benefits".

"We believe that it is right to utilise our domestic gas resources to the maximum extent and exploring further the potential for onshore gas production from shale rock formations in the United Kingdom, where it is economically efficient, and where environment impacts are robustly regulated", he said.

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Ken Cronin, Chief Executive of UKOOG, the industry body, said: "This country needs a diverse supply of energy which protects and secures United Kingdom jobs and United Kingdom taxes".

But they stressed that the government would take an increasingly tough line with authorities that delayed fracking planning decisions.

Green co-leader Caroline Lucas said: 'These latest measures utterly undermine the Government's green rhetoric - and show that the Tories simply can't shake their support for fossil fuel firms'.

She said shale gas had the potential to lower energy prices, although opponents of the technology say there is no evidence this will happen in the UK.

"This country needs a diverse supply of energy which protects and secures United Kingdom jobs and United Kingdom taxes", he said. In the U.S., where fracking is a common mode of natural gas extraction, it takes around four weeks to receive permission to drill a test well, whereas in the United Kingdom it can take up to three years.

But their concerns were dismissed by petrochemicals giant Ineos, which said delays in exploiting United Kingdom gas was leading the country to become dependent on imports from Russian Federation and the Middle East.

"The announcement is a step in the right direction and there is much more that needs to be done".

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