Industry

Landowners welcome Government move on fracking liability

Update on the Infrastructure Bill

The Country Land and Business Association has welcomed government moves which it says recognise landowners’ concerns about liability for damage from fracking.

The Infrastructure Bill seeks to rewrite the trespass law by allowing oil and gas companies the right to drill and frack below 300m without the owners’ consent. But the CLA had been concerned that landowners would be liable for any problems if the fracking process went wrong, particularly after a well had been abandoned.

On the Infrastructure Bill’s last day in the House of Lords yesterday (19th November 2014), the Energy minister, Baroness Verma, moved an amendment which absolves landowners of liability for any loss or damage from fracking, unless they are the result of the landowners’ deliberate omission.

She told peers she had listened to concerns that the right to use deep-level land could disadvantage landowners if claims were brought against them.

“While the existing regulatory regime is robust, I agree that we can do more to reassure landowners. We need to be clear that these sorts of claims—brought by a third party against a landowner whose land is accessed through the right of use clauses—cannot be made against a landowner who has done nothing wrong.

“The amendment will provide protection for landowners against claims made by third parties for any loss or damage caused by the exercise of the right of use provision. It does, however, ensure that landowners—including persons with an interest in land, such as persons licensing the land—will not benefit from the exemption if they deliberately fail to act, or decide not to allow someone else to act.

“To make this fair to landowners, we also propose that a landowner would not have to do anything that would ultimately involve them in bearing any costs. This means, for example, that if a landowner prevented an operator from accessing his land to remediate any damage caused, despite the landowner not having to bear any costs, that landowner could be deemed liable. If, by contrast, the landowner allowed for the damage to be remediated, this amendment ensures that, as well as benefiting from existing protections, the landowner would not be liable to claims from any third parties for loss or damage.”

CLA president Henry Robinson said:

“We have had major concerns over the government’s seeming indifference to the potential liabilities facing landowners if anything goes wrong in the fracking process, particularly once a well has been abandoned. We are relieved that after months of CLA lobbying the government has listened and addressed this important issue.”

Mr Robinson said the CLA still had concerns about the proposal to give fracking companies the right to drill under people’s land without their permission. He said the organisation also opposed the Bill’s presumption that drilling companies had a right to exploit geothermal heat, again without the owners’ permission.

The CLA president is due to meet the Energy Minister, Matthew Hancock, to discuss shale gas and fracking on 27 November.

The Infrastructure Bill now moves to the House of Commons. Lord Davies of Oldham predicted that the Bill was just at the start of a long road and there would be more challenges to it ahead, particularly on its clauses about fracking.

Labour is expected to revive its amendments calling for Environmental Impact Assessments for all fracking sites, independent inspections of well integrity, public disclosure of chemicals used in fracking, consultation with relevant water companies and monitoring of sites for 12 months before operations begin. Amendments designed to protect designated wildlife sites from fracking are also likely to be raised in the House of Commons.

Lady Verma’s Word Cloud  Find out which words were used most in the Baroness’s speeches on shale and fracking during the Report Stage debate of the Infrastructure Bill on November 10th 2014

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