Industry

Change to trespass law on track for drillers, despite 99% opposition

The government is going ahead with plans to change the trespass law to give underground access to oil and gas drilling companies, despite more than 40,000 objections.

There were 40,647 responses to a consultation by the Department of Energy and Climate Change earlier this year. Of these, DECC announced yesterday, more than 99% had opposed a proposal to provide underground access without permission to gas, oil and geothermal below 300 metres. Only 284 responses were in favour of the plans.

At present, oil and gas drilling companies must get legal consent from the owner of the land where they want to operate.

In its response to the consultation, DECC said the proposal would go ahead and there was no reason to change the details. It said it had focussed on responses from what it called “stakeholder groups” and people who directly answered the consultation questionnaire. 55% of the stakeholders, which totalled 82, supported the government’s proposals.

DECC said: “We acknowledge the large number of responses against the proposal and the fact that the proposal has provided an opportunity for the public to voice their concerns and raise issues. However the role of the consultation was to seek arguments and evidence to consider in developing the proposed policy. Whilst a wide range of arguments were raised and points covered, we did not identify any issues that persuaded us to change the basic form of the proposals.”

DECC said issues that were raised in the consultation that had not been addressed during the development of the policy, could be “adequately managed through existing processes rather than by amending our proposals”.

It added: “We believe that the proposed policy remains the right approach to underground access and that no issues have been identified that would mean that our overall policy approach is not the best available option. We will therefore put before Parliament primary legislation to implement policy proposals set out in the consultation paper.”

The consultation, which ran between 23rd May and 15th August, asked three questions:

Question 1: Should the government legislate to provide underground access to gas, oil and geothermal developers below 300 metres

Question 2: If you do not believe the government should legislate for underground access, do you have a preferred alternative solution

Question 3: Should a payment and notification for access be administered through the voluntary scheme proposed by industry?

DECC classified the responses into three groups:

  • 36,582 from individuals – about 90% of total responses- who provided what DECC called “free-form” replies
  • 3,983 from individuals, local groups and small businesses who addressed the three consultation questions
  • 82 from stakeholder organisations, which included local councils and authorities, industry (9ncluding oil, gas and geothermal companies), associations and environmental, legal, energy and water organisations.

DECC said of the individual responses, 28,821 submitted one or two campaign texts which, it said, “did not specifically address the consultation questions, although all opposed the proposed underground access legislation”.

It added: “We focussed on the stakeholder and questionnaire responses as these respondents included detailed responses to the consultation questions, whereas the majority of campaign responses and free form responses do not. However, we have still addressed the points made in the free form responses in this document”.

Responses in detail

Question 1: Should the government legislate to provide underground access to gas, oil and geothermal developers below 300 metres

  • 99% of what DECC called “free-form” responses and 100% of all the campaign responses opposed the proposal.
  • 94% pf the questionnaire respondents answered no; 6% answered yes.
  • 55% of the 82 stakeholder responses said yes; 24% said no; 21% did not specify.

Main points against: opposition to fracking on environmental, health and geological grounds; the principle of removing land rights; and support for renewable energy rather than fossil fuels;

Main point in favour: the current system was not fit for purpose and changes were required to allow industry to proceed

Consultation responses, excluding what DECC called "free-form" and "campaign" replies

Consultation responses, excluding what DECC called “free-form” and “campaign” replies

Question 2: If you do not believe the government should legislate for underground access, do you have a preferred alternative solution

  • 74% out of 4,065 questionnaire and stakeholder responses submitted alternatives

Alternative suggestions: need to invest or incentivise renewables; opposition to fracking and any change in legislation; need for legislation to reduce energy consumption; need to consult every landowner.

Question 3: Should a payment and notification for access be administered through the voluntary scheme proposed by industry?

  • 82% of 4,065 stakeholder and questionnaire respondents said no; 10% said yes; 8% did not reply
  • 39% of the 82 stakeholders respondents said yes; 21% said no

Comments included: opposition to fracking and any change in legislation; scheme should be statutory because a voluntary scheme would not be effective; the proposals was akin to bribery

What happens next?

Energy Minister, Matthew Hancock, said yesterday the government would introduce legislation to allow oil, gas and geothermal companies to use underground land below 300m. The legislation is expected to be included in the Infrastructure Bill.

Mr Hancock said: “These new rules will help Britain to explore the great potential of our national shale gas and geothermal resources, as we work towards a greener future – and open up thousands of new jobs in doing so.”

Reaction to the government’s decision coming soon.

5 replies »

  1. Here is a reaction to ‘Gvmt’s decision’: The selective interpretation of the more than 40,000 objections as shared in the report are wilfull in their aim to find reason to default to what was clearly a foregone conclusion. It flies in the face of democracy and highlights the schizophrenic nature of the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the massive conflicts of interest they suffer from.. On the one hand they are supposed to be working democratically to preserve our environment and climate against threats such as over extraction and burning of fossil fuels, and on the other, they are trying to “maximise economic recovery of UK oil and gas”. Someone needs to go into DECC and excise the heart of the problem, that is: dyfunctional aspirations and institutionalised corruption. I pity the good people who no doubt work amidst it all.

  2. What were you expecting? Maybe you thought the government would roll over and change its mind and conclude that Fracking is not the way to go? History says otherwise: Stanstead chosen as third London Airport despite massive protests and a public inquiry, and all the while the inquiry was ongoing the M11 was being built/extended and a railway line built to the front door. HS2? I could go on. All ANY government does is move the goalposts to achieve what it wants and any ‘objections’ which are successful in the short time are side stepped in the long run. Resistance is futile to coin a phrase.

  3. No one is serious about gas or oil anywhere near 300 meters for any number of geological reasons. But geothermal is impossible without it. Surely FoE aren’t against geo thermal, which is identical: creating fractures using sand and chemicals.

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