This time last year we reported on the impact of the forthcoming General Election on fracking (hydraulic extaction of shale oil and gas), and the impact on landowners’ rights. One year on, the government’s commitment to the fracking industry is clear.
Earlier this year they changed the law of trespass to allow energy companies access to drill down and operate below 300m of subsoil without requiring landowners’ consent, and to leave the deep-level land in a different condition from the condition before the drilling.
The Infrastructure Act 2015 (IA 2015) came into force in April, and contained a regulatory framework to allow deep access, and issue exploratory and drilling licences, subject to environmental impact assessments. In August the government made 27 exploration licences available in the north of the UK, and will permit energy companies to sink boreholes to monitor groundwater, and, following consultation, to monitor seismic activity.
They also restricted the local planning process to a 16 week timeframe, with the right for the Communities Secretary to determine applications that overrun.
There is no doubt that the government is trying to address public concern about the impact on local communities, while supporting the energy industry. However landowners and communities will continue to be concerned that government is pressing ahead too quickly. It promised to look at involving communities in the planning decisions and to consider how communities can share in the financial returns generated. It has been left to the exploration companies to come up with compensation proposals, though the IA 2015 provides a statutory process for payments in default. Local authorities will not welcome having to fast track applications to avoid losing control over the process.
The government may continue to consult and provide a tight legislative framework for the fracking industry, but that won’t stop the protests.
First published in the September 2015 edition of South East Farmer magazine.