The government wants to allow oil and gas companies to drill seismic monitoring boreholes without applying for planning permission.
Under the proposals, any other structures required for seismic monitoring would also be allowed without the need for consent.
The details were published earlier this month but they were overshadowed by an announcement on the same day that Ministers could fast-track fracking applications by taking over planning decisions from local authorities.
The Department of Communities and Local Government has said it will remove the need for planning permission – known as permitted development rights – for groundwater monitoring boreholes linked to oil and gas operations. (See more at the bottom of this post) On 13th August, it proposed further extensions of permitted development rights, including seismic monitoring boreholes and structures.
The government said this would reduce what it called “the administrative burden of the planning system” and “costs to business”. But the extension of permitted development rights to seismic monitoring stations is likely to be controversial.
Lancashire seismic monitoring schemes
In June this year, anti-fracking campaigners were dismayed when Lancashire County Council approved Cuadrilla’s application for 91 monitoring stations linked to its proposed fracking site at Roseacre Wood, despite refusing permission for fracking itself.
Opponents of the monitoring scheme had argued that the stations, each measuring 20m by 20m, could be used in future for drilling. They also said the developments would lead to a loss of agricultural land and would contribute to the industrialisation of the countryside.
The local campaign organisation, Roseacre Awareness Group, has lodged an application with the High Court for a judicial review of the decision process.
Lancashire County Council refused a similar application for monitoring stations associated with Cuadrilla’s proposed fracking site at Preston New Road. The company has appealed against that decision.
The government is now consulting on the seismic monitoring proposals. It is also consulting on two other recommendations:
- To extend permitted development rights for groundwater monitoring boreholes from six months to two years.
- To extend permitted development rights for boreholes up to 160m to investigate how former mine workings may affect petroleum exploration
The consultation period ends on 24th September 2015.
Groundwater monitoring boreholes
Following an earlier consultation, the government said it intended to change planning rules “so that development which consists of the drilling of boreholes for groundwater monitoring for petroleum exploration can take place as permitted development.” It has added two restrictions: groundwater monitoring boreholes will not be allowed in protected groundwater source areas; and structures used to drill boreholes will be limited to 12m (not 15m as originally proposed).