Fracking, the extraction of shale gas, is a central part of the UK government’s energy strategy. Yet MPs across party lines have come together to halt proposed changes to the application process following a new report.
While support for fracking has been somewhat inconsistent, the government recently announced plans to allow drilling to take place without planning applications. This would be possible by bringing fracking applications under the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIP) regime – basically allowing the government to ignore local planning objections.
The move was proposed earlier this year by Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), Greg Clark, when he made clear that shale gas development ‘is of national importance’ to the UK. He acknowledged a number of challenges within the current regime and announced a number of solutions intended to smooth the development path. These include a new regulator, a new shale support fund and a new planning brokerage service for shale applications.
Many in the shale industry rejoiced but it seems as if moving shale planning out of local control is not going to be as easy as hoped. The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee (HCLGC)’s recently released report into planning guidance on fracking warned the Government against the move.
Uncertainty around shale development continues to also be driven in part by public fears of water pollution, the destruction of rural landscapes and even earthquakes caused by drilling. There are a range of risks to be managed, from planning and timing uncertainty, the need for significant capital investment to scale up operations, surface access restrictions and population density and, of course, uncertainty around key economic outputs. Forbes