Communities in the UK could lose the right to regulate
hydraulic fracturing (fracking) locally as part of Cabinet
plans to grow the country’s shale oil and gas
in the UK suffered a setback this week, after it emerged
that the government is considering designating fracking
wells as "nationally significant infrastructure" (source:
Matt Brown, via Flickr).
The paper reported that a 10-page plan, which was leaked to
anti-fracking campaigners, revealed that as part of a move to
expand the sector, three cabinet ministers expressed their
support for fracking wells to be classified as "nationally
Should the plans go ahead, local councils would be prevented
from blocking local drilling applications, with the decision
lying in the hands of planning inspectors, speeding up the
approval process in the UK.
According to environmental group Friends of the Earth, which
obtained the documents, the proposed changes are "an attack on
UK Onshore Oil and Gas (UKOOG), the body which represents
the interests of oil and gas exploration, extraction and
storage companies, meanwhile, expressed its support for the
government’s plans to strengthen energy security
in the UK and to accelerate the move away from coal as a source
of power generation.
According to the organisation, in the year 2000, the UK
produced enough gas to cover its consumption needs. However,
the country now relies on imports for nearly half of its
natural gas requirements.
"This is a heavily regulated industry, with four separate
regulators, all with their own suite of oversight," the
organisation’s chief executive, Ken Cronin,
"Recent experience has shown that the planning process for
exploration needs to be made quicker and within prescribed
timescales. The time taken for planning decisions has soared
from three months to over a year and this is prohibitively
expensive for local councils and operators," Cronin added.
In June last year, the UK’s Lancashire County
Council refused the application
made by energy company Cuadrilla Resources to carry out
fracking operations at the company’s Preston New
Road site in the north of England on the grounds of noise and
The decision was criticised at the time by the UKOOG, which
Cronin described as "15 months of a long drawn out process",
calling for a government review of the decision making
procedure, noting the the recommended timeline for such
planning decisions is 16 weeks.
Referring to the Telegraph’s article
this week, Cronin said: "It is important that local people can
put forward their point of view and they are assured that the
highest standards of safety and environmental protection are
met, but unless the industry can drill exploratory wells, we
will not know whether gas can be produced safely and by 2030
80% of our gas will come from overseas."
If the development of its natural gas industry is
accelerated as hoped, the UK could see an increase in demand
for oilfield minerals such as barite (barytes), bentonite,
calcium carbonate and gilsonite – used in drilling
muds and casing – as well as for silica (frac) sand,
kaolin and bauxite proppant materials needed in fracking.
Developments in the downturn
Last week, UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced a
series of measures to further support the UK’s oil
and gas industry in the current downturn. Support will be
delivered to the industry both by the government and Oil and
Gas Authority (OGA), which will provide £700,000
($1.09m*) of government funding towards a world class 3D
visualisation facility at the Lyell Centre in Edinburgh,
The centre, a JV between the British Geological Survey (BGS)
and Heriot-Watt University, will use the funding on
state-of-the-art equipment for the interpretation of complex
geological and engineering data, supporting research to the
industry and academia.
"The strong commitment from government to support this vital
sector during this difficult economic downturn is very
welcome," OGA CEO, Andy Samuel, said. "The endorsement of the
City Region Deal and Oil and Gas Technology Centre will play an
important role in anchoring the area’s future as
an oil and gas hub, while the £20m government support to
fund more seismic surveys is a welcome boost to increase
In December, The UK government awarded additional fracking
licences to 14 companies as part of its drive to encourage
The new licences were part of the second release of the
government’s 14th Onshore Oil and
Gas Licencing Round and included 93 licences for the
exploration of 159 blocks of land – a 50%
increase in the total number of licences granted.
The Conservative government in the UK has expressed its
support for the fracking industry on a number of occasions, and
last year urged local councils to speed up permitting
In November, The UK’s Energy and Climate
Secretary, Amber Rudd, outlined the government’s
energy policy "reset", which will include the phase out of all
unabated coal-fired power plants by 2025 and a focus on the
development of gas and nuclear energy.
Coal-fired power will be restricted from 2023 and cut
completely by 2025, making the UK one of the first developed
countries to commit to taking coal off the system.
Over half of UK public supports shale development,
An alliance of UK trade organisations – including
the UK Onshore Oil and Gas Association and the Chemicals
Industries Association – last week called for a
national dialogue on the use and supply of gas in the
The call follows research completed at the end of last year
by ComRes, which said that 55% of the UK population want to
prioritise gas produced in Britain, including shale gas
production via fracking, over energy imported from
"This at a time when the prestigious Institution of
Mechanical Engineers reports that the UK will face an
unprecedented electricity supply gap in a decade’s
time with a decline of up to 55% as coal-fired power stations
are shut and nuclear power stations are decommissioned," the
Other organisations part of the group include the OESG, The
Manufacturers’ Organisation (EEF), Oil and Gas UK
and Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce.
According to the alliance, the research highlights a
substantial level of support among the UK public for using UK
produced gas over imported energy, as well as finding that 65%
agree that natural gas has a role to play in helping the UK
become a low carbon economy.
ComRes figures additionally showed that 56% of British
adults surveyed agree that reducing the cost of energy should
be prioritised over environmental concerns, given worries about
high energy prices.
"This research highlights that the UK population is
incredibly dependent on gas and is increasingly conscious of
environmental issues," the energy director at the Chemical
Industries Association, Nick Sturgeon, said. "As an industry we
need to do more to ensure we explain the value of gas to the
economy and the environment. Gas heats 84% of our homes,
produces 30% of our electricity and is an essential ingredient
in everyday items such as mobile phones and toothbrushes."
"Majorities of Britons are concerned about energy security
and would like to see moves to a lower carbon economy,"
ComRes’ managing director, Katharine Peacock,
said. "So while important, the debate around
Britain’s energy makeup will need to address
issues beyond cost alone."
Meanwhile, findings from a public opinion study by
Nottingham University towards the end of last year put support
for shale gas extraction at its lowest level to date –
46.5% overall and when divided by gender, just 31.5% of women
were in favour.
In mid-January, hundreds of people took place in a demonstration,
protesting against fracking in Upton, near Chester, following
the eviction of activists from the IGas Energy Plc drilling
site in the area.
The area had been cleared of protesters by bailiffs, with a
total of nine people arrested during the operation, after
campaigners – who had set up camp at the site in April
2014 – were served with an order of position by
High Court Enforcement Officers in November 2015.
"This will not deter our community from visibly showing that
IGas have no social licence in our area. A survey conducted by
Frack Free Upton found 85% were against fracking taking place,"
a spokesperson for Frack Free Dee, one of the protest
organisers, told IM.
*Conversions made February 2016