Government proposals to allow oil and gas companies to drill monitoring boreholes without planning permission will be put before parliament next year.
Ministers want to change what are known as “permitted development rights” for groundwater monitoring boreholes and boreholes for seismic investigation and monitoring.
A statement, released on the same day as the new oil and gas exploration licences last week, confirmed the government would remove the need for consent next year.
The Department of Communities and Local Government said it would set out the detailed wording of the changes in a statutory instrument, also known as an SI or secondary legislation. It said this would be laid before parliament in 2016.
The full House of Commons rarely gets to debate an SI, as seen in the one used last week to allow fracking under national parks and other protected areas. It will, however, be scrutinised by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. This meets most weeks and its reports are available here.
The SI will amend the existing rules in the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015.
If approved, the new rules would allow oil and gas operators to drill boreholes for monitoring and investigation related to petroleum exploration without the need for planning permission. This would specifically include:
- Groundwater monitoring boreholes for 24 months
- Seismic investigation and monitoring for up to six months
- Location and appraisal of mine workings for up to six months
The government statement said:
“The permitted development right amendments for monitoring and investigative activities for petroleum development will enable data to be collected to better inform any future planning applications for the exploration of petroleum development.”
“These proposals would assist in establishing a more informed baseline for future monitoring; provide information to inform any environmental statement for an environmental impact assessment; and inform the location of drilling sites for any future planning application for petroleum exploration.”
“The amended permitted development rights will be subject to conditions and restrictions and do not remove the need for operators to comply with other regulatory or consenting regimes. They would also be proportionate to the type of development that is allowed to be carried out under permitted development rights, including those currently allowed for mineral exploration more generally.”
The 24-month duration on groundwater monitoring boreholes was, the government, said, considered necessary to enable monitoring of groundwater for methane, required under Section 50 of the Infrastructure Act.
New powers and continuing requirements
The statement said it had included new powers:
- Mineral Planning Authorities would have the power, in certain circumstances, to require a planning application if it considered the cumulative effects of development already being carried out or notified to it would be seriously detrimental to local amenity of well-being.
- Operators would be required to notify the Environment Agency and local drinking water supplier of all proposals to drill boreholes under the new permitted development rights.
- Operators must notify the Coal Authority of proposals for drilling boreholes to explore for old mine workings
The government said:
“Permitted development rights do not remove the need to comply with the general law, and the requirements and guidance of other regulators, in particular those relating to health and safety”.
It decided not to amend the Environment Agency’s required 50m minimum stand-off distances of boreholes from water supplies.
Developers would continue to be subject to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010.
Existing limits on the use of explosive charges would be applied to boreholes for seismic monitoring and investigation.
The plans originally date back to an announcement in the spring..
March 2015: Consultation on applying permitted development rights to ground water monitoring boreholes for six months.
13th August 2015: Government response to consultation published. It also invited comments on additional proposals to lengthen the duration for ground water monitoring boreholes from six to 24 months and extend permitted development to boreholes for seismic investigation and monitoring and appraisal of former mine workings.
17th December 2015: Government response to second consultation published
The government statement said the summer’s consultation attracted 23 responses: 4% from local government, 4% from businesses and trade associations, 57% from landowners and private individuals, 22% from non-profit organisations and non-departmental public bodies.
11 respondents opposed proposal to extend permitted development rights for groundwater monitoring from six to 24 months, while seven supported it. On the seismic monitoring proposal, nine opposed and six supported. Nine respondents opposed the proposal on mine workings while eight supported.