4th June 2014
As expected, the government included plans in this morning’s Queen’s Speech to allow fracking companies to drill under land without permission.
The Infrastructure Bill will change the current trespass laws, which require land and homeowners to give permission for oil and gas drilling. The government believes the legislation will help develop the fracking industry and allow horizontal wells to be drilled more easily up to 3km from a central well pad.
Among the first to react to the announcement was the Local Government Association, which tweeted: “Local views on #fracking should not be overridden – areas must not be short-changed.”
Greenpeace, which sent campaigners to erect “fracking” warning signs around the Prime Minister’s house, tweeted: “Greenpeace: Fracking@David_Cameron‘s house has been stopped. Police are right: no one should frack under someone’s garden without permission”.
The onshore operator’s group, UKOOG welcomed the Infrastructure Bill. Its chief executive, Ken Cronin, said: “The proposed legislation will bring the onshore oil and gas and geothermal industries into line with other activities, such as mining and utilities, and will have no noticeable effect on the lives of home and property owners.”
A spokesman for Cuadrilla Resources told the Blackpool Gazette: “This will reduce the uncertainty and potential delays in progressing onshore gas and oil exploration and extraction created by the existing Land Access law.”
Before the speech, the Institute of Directors told The Telegraph the fracking industry would “never get off its feet” without a change in the law. The British Chambers of Commerce said fracking was “absolutely essential and business will support legislative measures to exploit Britain’s shale gas deposits”.
Energy Voice warned the Infrastructure Bill faced a backlash from the government’s supporters. Last month, a YouGov poll reported in the Guardian found 74% of respondents opposed changes to the trespass laws. The government’s proposals were opposed by a majority of supporters of all political parties: 73% of Conservatives, 70% of Lib Dems, 77% of UKIP voters and 80% of Labour voters.
Leading figures from a range of organisations wrote to the Prime Minister last month arguing that people’s right to say no to under-house drilling was “appropriate and should be retained given the associated major risks and lack of a precautionary approach by the government”.
The organisations included the Homeowners Alliance, RSPB, Wildlife Trusts, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, the Angling Trust, and the Salmon and Trout Association, They also warned the Prime Minister that “the rush to change property rights would further erode public trust in the government’s approach to fracking’’ and described the move “an unacceptable prioritisation of the commercial interests of the few over the rights of land and property owners”.
By last month, over 45,000 people across the UK had denied permission for under-house fracking by joining legal blocks, organised by Greenpeace. Among the first were five residents of Fernhurst in West Sussex, who have formally refused permission for the energy firm, Celtique Energie, to drill under their land. Since the block, the company has revised its planning application and no longer plans to drill a horizontal well.
This morning, Greenpeace launched a petition urging MPs to vote against the change in the law. It said “The Government is making a mockery of public participation by announcing legislation in the Queen’s Speech to ‘open up access to shale gas’. Just days ago ministers launched a public consultation on whether or not to strip away householders’ rights to say no to companies fracking under their homes.”
The government launched a public consultation on its proposals on the day the British Geological Survey announced the results of its research on oil and gas potential in the Weald Basin in southern England.
In the consultation document, the government said: “If we did nothing to address this issue, the commercial exploitation of shale gas and oil in Great Britain is unlikely to develop to a significant scale, in a timely manner, or at all, and the deep geothermal industry is extremely unlikely to develop.”
It announced a voluntary industry scheme to pay communities £20,000 for a each horizontal well that extends by more than 200 metres. Payments to individual homeowners were likely to be minimal, the document said, of about £50.
The proposals also include a voluntary scheme for notifying people affected. However, the document said: “This notification would not be a mechanism for an individual or community to object to the project. Such objections are more appropriate as part of the planning or environmental regulatory processes.”
The consultation runs until 11.45am on August 15th 2014.
[Post updated on 5/6/14 to include reaction from Cuadrilla Resources and UKOOG]