Fracking trespass law changes move forward despite huge public opposition
Ministers reject 40,000 objections to allow fracking below homes without owners’ permission
The Guardian, Friday 26 September 2014 13.18 BST
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Prime minister David Cameron during a guided tour of the IGas shale drilling plant near Gainsborough, Lincolnshire. Photograph: Lindsey Parnaby/PA
Fracking will take place below Britons’ homes without their permission after ministers rejected 40,000 objections to controversial changes to trespass laws.
The UK government argued that the current ability for people to block shale gas development under their property would lead to significant delays and that the legal process by which companies can force fracking plans through was costly, time-consuming and disproportionate.
There were a total of 40,647 responses to a consultation on the move to give oil and gas companies underground access without needing to seek landowners’ permission, with 99% opposing the legal changes. Setting aside the 28,821 responses submitted via two NGO campaigns, 92% of the remaining responses objected to the proposals.
The government response to the consultation, published online on the eve of the parliamentary vote on military strikes against Islamic militants in Iraq, concluded: “Having carefully considered the consultation responses, we believe that the proposed policy remains the right approach to underground access and that no issues have been identified that would mean that our overall policy approach is not the best available solution.”
New laws will now be passed giving automatic access for gas and oil development below 300m and a notification and compensation scheme will be run by the industry on a voluntary basis.
“It is essential that we make the most of home-sourced energy and start exploring the natural energy supplies beneath our feet. As the cleanest fossil fuel shale gas provides a bridge to much greener future,” said a statement from the Department of Energy and Climate Change. “By removing barriers to deep underground drilling access, we are speeding up oil and gas and deep geothermal energy exploration. ”
The Conservative energy minister, Matt Hancock, said: “These new rules will help Britain to explore the great potential of our national shale gas and geothermal resources, as we work towards a greener future – and open up thousands of new jobs in doing so.”
“This is an important day for the future of energy supply in the UK,” said Ken Cronin, chief executive of the industry’s trade body, UK Onshore Oil and Gas (UKOOG). “Landowners on the surface will not notice this underground activity [usually a mile deep] and it will have no impact on their day-to-day lives.”
But Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said: “This sham consultation exposes the government’s disregard for the growing public concern about the major environmental and health risks of fracking. The decision to deny people the right to say no to fracking under their own homes is outrageous. It shows that ministers are putting the greed of oil and gas companies above the public interest in tackling climate change.”
Simon Clydesdale, from Greenpeace, said: “The roar of opposition to this arrogant policy is deafening, yet ministers are determined to blithely ignore what the overwhelming majority of the British public thinks and wants. There will be a hefty political price to pay for this massive sell-out to the narrow interests of the shale lobby.”
Friends of the Earth’s Jane Thomas said: “This government seems hell-bent on fracking irrespective of widespread opposition. You’d think with a general election approaching politicians would listen to public opinion and get behind the popular energy solutions of cutting waste and backing renewables.”
The changes to the trespass laws were also criticised by Scotland’s energy minister Fergus Ewing: “UK government proposals to remove the right of Scottish householders to object to drilling under their homes, without so much as debate in the Scottish parliament, flies in the face of Scotland’s cautious, considered and evidence based approach on this issue. It is also fundamentally an issue affecting land ownership rights.”
In January, another controversial pro-fracking legal change was passed in the face of overwhelming public opposition. The change, which ditched the requirement to notify homes individually of future shale gas operations, was criticised by a Lords committee as having been rushed through without proper parliamentary scrutiny.
Fracking companies will still need to obtain regulatory permissions, such as planning and environmental permits.
Earlier in September, the planning committee of the South Downs National Park Authority voted unanimously to reject an application by Celtique Energie to undertake exploratory drilling as a precursor to fracking at Fernhurst in West Sussex.