A government fund to help English councils deal with shale gas planning applications appears to have paid out just 20% of what was available.
A ministerial answer last week revealed that the shale support fund, which ran for five years until February 2020, paid nearly £1m to mineral planning authorities.
But analysis by DrillOrDrop shows that the government allocated £4.8m to the fund during that period.
In the first year, just 5% of the total was awarded.
The largest annual sum paid out – £365,000 in 2016-2017 – was just over a third of the fund’s total for that year.
The figures are another indicator of the slow progress of UK shale gas development.
While the shale support fund was operating, there were just 10 planning applications for shale gas exploration or fracking. In that time, only four shale gas wells were drilled and two fracked.
But where there were applications, some councils experienced daunting workloads.
Cuadrilla’s fracking applications in Lancashire generated 35,000 representations in a county council consultation, according to research by the Local Government Association and Planning Advisory Service.
Another mineral planning authority received representations from 3,950 different people.
North Yorkshire County Council calculated that the fracking application from Third Energy in 2015 cost more than £0.5m to process. The council said it received £170,000 from the government.
Extra staff and expertise
The shale support fund invited councils to apply for money to pay for extra staff and expertise to handle an application. The money could not be used to fund appeals where a company contested the refusal of planning permission.
The first tranche offered individual councils a maximum of:
- £50,000 at pre-application for specialist support and to encourage engagement and awareness-raising
- £170,000 after receipt of an application to “assist in efficient processing of an application and access to specialist and administrative support”
- £30,000 after the decision to support the discharge and monitoring of conditions
“We also expect local planning authorities to make full use of the funding available for 2015/16 through the £1.2m shale support programme. This will ensure there are adequate resources locally to enable the timely determination locally of planning applications for shale gas. Local planning authorities should also agree to Planning Performance Agreements where this is appropriate.”
But figures released this week by local government minister, Christopher Pincher, show that just £46,173 was awarded in that year. Cuadrilla’s applications to drill and frack at Preston New Road and Roseacre Wood near Blackpool were considered by Lancashire County Council in this year.
The government allocated £800,000 in the next year, 2016-2017. The total awarded reached £365,000, just 37% of the total available. This year saw Nottinghamshire County Council’s decision on the IGas exploratory shale gas plans at Springs Road and Tinker Lane and the decision by North Yorkshire County Council on Third Energy’s fracking site at Kirby Misperton.
The total sum available rose in 2017-2018 to £1,200,000. But according to Mr Pincher, the amount awarded was just £123,947. In this year, Ineos applied for shale gas sites at Harthill and Woodsetts in Rotherham and Bramleymoor Lane in Derbyshire. Also in this year, IGas to apply to test its well at Ellesmere Port in Cheshire. The company said the target rock was the Pentre Chert not shale but at a planning inquiry the company’s team frequently referred to shale gas so we have included this application. [Documents for the 2017-2018 fund have been removed from a government web page but there is a screengrab.]
The fund continued for two more years with £800,000 available in both 2018-2019 and 2019-2020. The government paid out £252,858 and £193,000, according to this week’s figures. The fund closed in February 2020.
During the period of the fund, high volume hydraulic fracturing was attempted on two wells at Preston New Road in Lancashire in 2018 and 2019. The moratorium on fracking was imposed following earth tremors induced by operations at the site.
Third Energy was also granted planning permission to frack at Kirby Misperton in North Yorkshire in 2016 but failed a financial resilience test and the operation was abandoned.
Dates of shale gas applications 2015-2020
Great Altcar, Aurora Energy Resources – awaiting decision on application to drill, test and frack shale gas wells
Dinnington Road, Woodsetts, Ineos – awaiting decision for shale gas exploration after appeal
Ellesmere Port, IGas – awaiting decision to test well after appeal
Common Road, Harthill, Ineos – granted permission for exploration after appeal, no site work
Bramleymoor Lane, Ineos – granted permission for exploration after appeal, no site work
Tinker Lane, IGas – granted permission for exploration, well drilled, site restored after well failed to encounter the Bowland Shale
Springs Road, Misson, IGas – granted permission for exploration, well drilled but not yet fracked
Kirby Misperton, Third Energy – granted permission to frack but operation not permitted by government because company failed financial resilience test
Preston New Road, Cuadrilla – granted permission to drill, frack and test after appeal, two wells drilled and fracked
Roseacre Wood, Cuadrilla – drilling and fracking plans refused after appeal