A fracking consultation was “one-sided” and biased to the needs of the energy industry, say landowners who have accused the Government of “riding roughshod” over property rights.
The Country Land and Business Association says the Government has allowed the demands of energy industry investors to take precedence over established rights and disregarded long-term liabilities in its enthusiasm to realise shale gas extraction.
The CLA’s South West director, John Mortimer, explained that the Department of Energy and Climate Change consultation proposes removing the need for landowner consent for underground works associated with oil, gas and geothermal heat exploration. He says the consultation is one-sided and is squarely aimed at meeting the demands of the energy industry while disregarding the rights and concerns of UK property owners.
As it stands, landowners are able to significantly delay drilling under their land, though DECC admits that failed negotiations taken to courts via the Secretary of State by the drilling firms will probably result in access being granted, given that the development is “likely to be in the national interest”.
“The Government is anxious to streamline the existing system of access, but we see no reason why the fracking industry should be entirely absolved of its duties to identify and agree access with landowners – just as other profit-making industries do,” continued Mr Mortimer.
The CLA, he says, is not opposed to the development of the UK’s shale gas and geothermal resources, but as an organisation which represents land ownership and property rights it has serious concerns with the current proposals – particularly because no real consideration has been given to alternative means.
“Large-scale shale gas development is new to the UK and the long-term implications are uncertain. There is currently no clear system in place to protect landowners from any ongoing liability should problems occur once a well has been abandoned.
“This is a major concern for our members and a glaring omission from the consultation. Land and property owners must be protected before further development takes place.”
However, DECC says that the return of wells to their prior state and safe decommissioning is already required, and will be part of the planning requirements.
The CLA added that the voluntary community fund included in the proposals does not provide a route to compensation or consideration for those whose rights might be threatened.
“There are other ways to deliver the access required and we have offered to negotiate a national access agreement which would remove the need for new legislation,” said Mr Mortimer.
A statement from the Department for Energy and Climate Change said: “Unlocking shale gas will be key to ensuring our long-term economic and energy security.
“Our proposals would allow shale development to go ahead while offering a fair deal for communities and protecting the environment. Many other industries already access underground land.