Ministers press ahead with plans to allow fracking under homes without owners’ consent despite opposition from 99 per cent of consultation respondents
Fracking involves pumping water, sand and chemicals down a well at high pressure to fracture the rocks and extract gas trapped within them, and is fiercely opposed by environmental groups. Photo: Reuters
By Emily Gosden, Energy Editor4:55PM BST 26 Sep 2014 22 Comments
Fracking under homes without owners’ consent must be allowed despite overwhelming opposition to a consultation on the plans, ministers have said.
More than 99 per cent of respondents to the consultation opposed the planned law change, which would hand energy companies an automatic right to frack deep beneath homes in pursuit of shale gas or oil.
But ministers brushed aside the concerns and laid the proposals before the Lords on Thursday night, insisting the plans would “help bolster our national energy security”.
Under current law a landowner who objects to fracking beneath their property could halt it going ahead, requiring the company to take them to court in a process ministers say would be unduly costly and time-consuming.
Under the new plans, companies would have an automatic right to underground access at depths of 980 feet or greater. Communities would be offered compensation of £20,000 for each horizontal well that was drilled.
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The consultation received 40,647 responses, more than 99 per cent of which were opposed to the changes.
Some 28,821 of these were submitted as part of organised campaigns against the changes by environmental groups including Greenpeace, which are opposed to fracking, and a further 7,761 raised similar concerns about fracking.
However, some 4,065 respondents did specifically address the questions – and 92 per cent of them still opposed the plan.
Of those who answered the questions, 82 were “stakeholders”, which included fracking firms, law firms and local councils. A narrow majority – 55 per cent – of these respondents backed the plan.
The Department of Energy and Climate Change acknowledged the “large number of responses against the proposal” but said the consultation “did not identify any issues that persuaded us to change the basic form of the proposals”.
It estimates that failure to change the law could see fracking companies incur £400,000 administrative costs at each site to negotiate access.
Under its proposals that would be cut to £25,000 – although the company would then have to pay the compensation. Industry sources expect that at peak production a company might have to pay £200,000 compensation at one site.
Having to take potentially 1,000 individual landowners to court could also delay drilling, DECC said.
“We consider that there is a clear problem, given the large land areas involved in horizontal drilling, in continuing to allow a single landowner or small group of landowners to refuse access and force companies to seek access via the courts (or block them entirely in the case of geothermal projects).
“We do not propose to wait for this problem to manifest itself in the form of a delayed shale or geothermal project before acting, given that we believe the likelihood of this risk materialising to be very high.”
Simon Clydesdale, energy campaigner for Greenpeace UK, 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.
“This move to rob people of their right to oppose fracking under their homes is the signature policy of the government’s fracking push. The country needs and wants clean, safe energy, and expects to be listened to.”
Matt Hancock, the energy minister, said: “Exploring the natural energy resources beneath our feet, within a robust regulatory framework, is important for our national energy security and helps create jobs.
“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.”
Ken Cronin, chief executive of fracking group UKOOG, said: “This is an important day for the future of energy supply in the UK as this amendment will help pave the way for the UK to develop natural gas from shale for the benefit of households and businesses across the country.
“The amendments to the bill will give automatic access rights to underground land below 300 metres, bringing it in line with other essential services such as water, sewage and coal. The current system involves significant potential delays and costs without benefit either to the oil and gas industry or the landowner.