Sunday, 9 August 2015

Fracking: kick-starting the shale gas revolution when local planners prove obstructive

There has been talk for some time about the government allowing fracking to go ahead - as part of a 'compulsory purchase'/'eminent domain' process:
Futures Forum: The Infrastructure Bill, trespass law and fracking ... Parliament votes in favour

Another way to see this is that central government needs to take these 'strategic decisions'.

This was earlier in the year:

George Osborne urges ministers to fast-track fracking measures in leaked letter

Chancellor’s list of requests, including responding to ‘asks’ from Cuadrilla, laid out in letter to cabinet colleagues 
 Read George Osborne’s letter in full

George Osborne has requested that ministers make dozens of interventions to fast-track fracking as a “personal priority”, including the delivery of numerous “asks” from shale gas company Cuadrilla.
The list of requests are laid out in a leaked letter to the chancellor’s cabinet colleagues. They include interventions in local planning, and offering public land for potential future drilling. Anti-fracking campaigners claim the letter reveals collusion with the industry, while Labour said it showed the government was an “unabashed cheerleader for fracking”.
The revelations come on the day of a Commons vote on fracking – the first MPs have had on the issue – and just hours after an influential cross-party committee of MPs published a report calling for a fracking moratorium because of potential risks to public health and climate change.
The UK’s first planning applications for full-scale fracking are also set be decided this week, with Lancashire county councillors to begin deliberations on Wednesday – having already been advised to refuse the proposals by planning officials.
David Cameron has said the government is “going all out” for shale gas in the UK, claiming it would create thousands of jobs, benefit community investment and cut reliance on imports. But opponents argue that high-pressure fracturing of rocks to release gas risks health and environmental impacts and will undermine the country’s climate change goals.
In Osborne’s six-page letter, dated 24 September, to the high-level cabinet committee on economic affairs, the chancellor demands “rapid progress” on “reducing risks and delays to drilling” from Ed Davey, Eric Pickles, Vince Cable, Liz Truss and other ministers.
Top of the list is to “respond to the asks from Cuadrilla”, the company intending to frack in Lancashire. The “asks” include contacting the Health and Safety Executive and Lancashire county council about planning applications, and the Ministry of Defence over granting Cuadrilla trucks access to military land. In his preamble, the chancellor writes: “I expect to see rapid progress” on the recommendations.
The letter, leaked to Friends of the Earth and seen by the Guardian, also includes moves to enable full shale gas production in future, such as ensuring that Pickles, whose communities department oversees planning, can “at his discretion” take the power to overrule planning decisions.

George Osborne urges ministers to fast-track fracking measures in leaked letter | Environment | The Guardian

Fears fracking could be "fast tracked"

Peers and charities fear a change in the law will allow the Government to “fast track” fracking against the will of local communities.

Fears fracking could be
A test drilling site for shale gas near Blackpool Photo: ALAMY

The Growth and Infrastructure Bill, currently going through the House of Lords, could allow exploration for shale gas to be considered as of “national significance”, meaning the Government can override local authorities to grant planning permission.

The National Trust, Campaign to Protect Rural England, Friends of the Earth, the Town & Country Planning Association, Wildlife Trusts and Greenpeace have joined up to fight the change in the law.

Baroness Young of Old Scone, an independent peer, said a number of members of the House of Lords are also concerned. She pointed out that the Government would not be changing the law unless they expected a lot of cases to use the new provision to get through controversial projects. She said the clause will mean communities have far less opportunity to try and stop an unpopular development. “It drives coach and horses though the local planning system which is pretty rich from the Tories - who claim to champion localism," she said.

The UK has a huge reserve of shale gas but much of it is below highly populated areas such as the home counties. Energy companies are currently fighting to get planning permission to start drilling at the most easily accessible wells in Lancashire.

The so-called Clause 24 would bring commercial and business developments, which could potentially include fracking, into the “fast track planning process”. This would mean that planning applications go straight to the Secretary of State and local communities have less say.

Baroness Hanham, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Communities, admitted that fracking may be fast tracked - although she insisted that the local community will still be consulted. “A request would have to be made to the Secretary of State to use the infrastructure regime and he would agree to such a request only where the proposal raised issues of national significance. It may be that national significance and fracking will be one and the same...”

The National Trust said they are "concerned about the centralisation aspects and the potentially significant shift of power away from local authorities".

Lawrence Carter, Greenpeace climate campaigner, said almost two-thirds of England is "earmarked for possible fracking". “A growing number of local communities are already fighting to stop their countryside being fracked, with concerns raised over environmental damage, under-house fracking and the erosion of property prices, but rather than listen to them, the Government is trying to remove their right to have a say," he said. “George Osborne needs to stop playing England’s JR Ewing and instead back the shift towards carbon free energy, which will create jobs and be cleaner, safer and cheaper over time.”

Paul Miner, of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said the consultation process with the community should be strengthened by changes in the law - not weakened. “The Government doesn’t appear to have recognised the real need for a proper, transparent process for planning fracking projects. There needs to be a proper public debate about the potential landscape and environmental damage and whether this can be addressed without damaging the countryside.”

The Department for Communities insisted that the types of development allowed under Clause 24 are yet to be decided. A spokesman pointed out there are no plans to "automatically remove" the rights of local authorities to decide and even if planning permission goes straight to the Secretary of State, local communities will still be consulted.

"The Government has consulted on the types of development that could use the major infrastructure planning regime and is now considering this. There are no proposals to automatically remove applications for shale gas development from local authority determination. Local communities will continue to have their say on whether to accept development of shale gas in their area."

Fears fracking could be "fast tracked" - Telegraph

The story will not go away:

Government trying to fast-track fracking without public consent

Exclusive: The Government is bidding to change the rules so local residents are no longer consulted at the testing stage

The Government is attempting to fast-track fracking by doing away with the need for the public to be consulted before test drilling goes ahead. The changes, which have been quietly put out to public consultation, mean the advice of local residents would no longer be sought in the early stages of most new oil and gas developments.

The proposals have been strongly criticised by campaign groups, who say the Government is increasing the risk of pollution by relaxing the environmental scrutiny given in the early stages of hydraulic fracturing – where pressurised chemicals are used to break up rocks to release oil or gas.

The changes will sidestep the need for public consultation in England by changing the way permits are allocated for the exploration phase of a site’s development – during which tests are carried out on the site using conventional drilling techniques to determine how much oil or gas is present.

Under the proposed new permit regime, the Environment Agency will no longer visit the site and conduct a thorough environmental audit before drawing up a set of tailored requirements for the exploration company. Instead, it will create a one-size-fits-all permit based on a set of rules that will be awarded to oil and gas companies showing they can meet the criteria.

“This is a big deal,” said David Santillo, a senior scientist at Greenpeace Research Laboratories. “To be looking to relax the rules on what is essentially a relatively new activity I think is irresponsible. There is still so little experience with what can go wrong with the geology in the UK.” He added: “I don’t see how they’re going to ensure environmental protection in this way. By definition, they are removing some of their ability to look at the local threat to the environment.” The Government has placed fracking, which in the US has been linked to earthquakes and water and air pollution – at the heart of its energy strategy. 

Whitehall wants to speed up the development of the fledgling industry by making it quicker and cheaper for companies to start work. The proposed permit changes relate to the waste created by drilling, well testing and the use of acid to clean the borehole. The Environment Agency, which regulates oil and gas production in England and Wales, stressed that a so-called site-specific permit – based on a site visit – would be needed if a company wanted to frack  following test drilling. But experts who have studied the proposals say the site-specific assessments should apply to permits all the way along the process and are concerned it is being dropped in the early stages. Oil and gas companies typically carry out extensive conventional drilling, using a wide variety of chemicals, during the explorative phase of their work – potentially putting the area at risk of water and air pollution and posing a threat to local wildlife, critics say.

Opponents to the changes are particularly concerned because fracking is new to the UK. This makes it harder, they say, to predict how the area will respond to exploration activities – at a time when the Government should be monitoring the process with increased scrutiny. Jake White, a legal adviser at Friends of the Earth, said: “It is part of the process of steadily chipping away at the regulation of fracking. The activities which standard permits cover can still have real impacts.” Dr Robert Gross, the director of Imperial College London’s Centre for Energy Policy and Technology, toldThe Independent: “It is important local communities are fully engaged and informed about all aspects of fracking. The Government has signalled it intends to give communities a more prominent role in onshore wind developments … It would seem even more important to ensure that local opinions factor strongly in all decisions about whether, or where, to frack.”

The changes will not apply to Scotland, as the Scottish Parliament controls its own fracking regulation and has banned it while it conducts further research into its safety. They are also unlikely to have an impact on Wales, as the Welsh Assembly has responsibility for planning consent and has pledged to block all fracking applications.

The Environment Agency has put its proposed permit changes to the public, in a consultation that closes at midnight on 15 June. An agency spokesman said: “We take the environmental risks associated with oil and gas exploration and production very seriously. We are committed to ensuring people and the environment are protected and these draft standard rule proposals will only cover lower-risk activities. We will actively consider all responses made during the consultation and they will help shape our regulations.”  He stressed that the standard permit only referred to “lower-risk activities” and excluded activities such as fracking and flaring off unwanted gas by burning it.

Government trying to fast-track fracking without public consent - UK Politics - UK - The Independent

This is from  today's Sunday Times:

Tories put fracking on fast track

James Lyons, Deputy Political Editor Published: 9 August 2015
Ministers will have strengthened powers to wrest fracking decisions from local authoritiesMinisters will have strengthened powers to wrest fracking decisions from local authorities (Matthew Lloyd)
FRACKING applications will be fast-tracked through the planning system under new rules intended to kick-start the shale gas revolution.
The guidance, to be issued this week, will strengthen the power of ministers to step in and wrest decisions from local authorities if planners are perceived to be obstructive.
While the government is braced for a row with environmental campaigners, local government leaders and some MPs over the plans, ministers have become frustrated at the failure to get the UK fracking industry off the ground.
An application by the shale gas firm Cuadrilla to drill wells on the Fylde coast was rejected by Lancashire county council in June, more than a year after it was first submitted.
Tories put fracking on fast track | The Sunday Times

With thanks to:
Fracking consent to be fast- tracked to avoid local decisions | East Devon Watch

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