In order to protect the UK’s energy resources , coal, gas and oil (which include shale gas) belong to the Crown and may only be extracted under licence from the Government.
This is despite a fundamental principle of our land law that a landowner owns “everything reaching to the very heavens and down to the depths of the Earth” directly above and below his land.
Shale gas geologically speaking is in pockets spread around a wide area and is therefore difficult to ring fence in the same way as an oil field. It does not readily flow to a well and is therefore referred to as an ‘unconventional gas’ which requires a special technique known as hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” to access it in the form of gas or oil.
Some opponents have a fear of potentially carcinogenic chemicals used in this process contaminating ground and surface water. This is not proven and will be site specific as will any potential increased risk of seismic activity.
All shale gas operations require appropriate planning consents and operational licences. Legal rights of access to the land on which a well head is to be established, and also adjoining land through which lateral drilling passes, will also be needed otherwise the oil company would be a trespasser.
However, this may soon change if proposed Government legislation is enacted to allow companies to access the significant reserves of shale gas and oil without obtaining landowner’s consent The government is considering how those landowners should be compensated and how the profits from those resources might be shared by local communities.
It is estimated that the productions of shale gas and oil in the UK could create an investment of several billion pounds and many thousands of jobs, though it is still unclear how much will be economically viable to extract Clearly, the balance of individual rights as against the benefit to the UK as a whole of extracting these resources needs to be addressed with great care and the issues resolved before too long so that plans to meet our future energy needs can be implemented.