Access under homes for fracking: Consultation

‘My government will introduce a bill to bolster investment in infrastructure and reform planning law to improve economic competitiveness.  The bill will enhance the United Kingdom’s energy independence and security by opening up access to shale and geothermal sites and maximising North Sea resources.’

This portion of the Queen’s Speech that opened Parliament on 4 June 2014 refers to the controversial proposal by the government to change trespass laws in an effort to make it easier for fracking companies to access shale gas without having to obtain the permission of the homeowner whose property sits atop a shale gas deposit.  Currently in the UK, freehold landowners have the rights from the surface down to the core, while the Crown owns the mineral rights to any petroleum deposits underneath.  The Consultation on Proposal for Underground Access for the Extraction of Gas, Oil or Geothermal, which will close on 15 August 2014 at 11:45pm, puts forth the proposed changes of the government and the reasons behind them.  According to the Consultation document, ‘if we do nothing to address this issue, the commercial exploitation of shale gas and oil in Great Britain is unlikely to develop to a significant scale, in a timely manner, or at all.’

In protest of the proposed changes, activists from Greenpeace staged a demonstration at David Cameron’s home the day the Queen gave her speech, offering to ‘kick off the under-house fracking revolution below his own garden.’  Friends of the Earth UK has called for a moratorium on fracking stating that it ‘is a gamble we don’t need to take.’  And the activist network Frack Off has over 130 local anti-fracking groups in its network across Great Britain and Ireland.

Throughout the Consultation, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) asserts that there will be little to no effect on people living above areas that are being fracked, but according to a recent report from Paul Mobbs, the government has relied upon a narrow body of evidence to support its conclusions that shale gas extraction is benign.  He argues that the recent environmental impact assessment by the DECC ‘represents a failure to protect the public’s interests’ and that any ‘Government policies or decisions which rely on this report must be considered flawed in their assumptions.’

There are three proposals that the government is making.  Firstly, it would like to change current trespass laws in order to grant underground access to petroleum-extracting companies without the homeowner’s permission as long as the drilling takes place at least 300 metres below the surface.  Second, the government proposes that a voluntary financial reimbursement scheme be put in place by the extracting companies that would see local communities receive a small, one-time payment in exchange for any fracking that takes place.  And lastly, a voluntary community notification system, tied to the payment scheme, would be created by industry that would not allow for individual or community objections to projects.

Consultation Questions:

  1. Should the Government legislate to provide underground access to gas, oil and geothermal developers below 300 metres?
  2. If you do not believe the Government should legislate for underground access, do you have a preferred alternative solution?
  3. Should a payment and notification for access be administered through the voluntary scheme proposed by industry?

Those who wish to respond to these questions can do so no later than 15 August 2014 by email to underground.access@decc.gsi.gov.uk.

By post:

The Office of Unconventional Gas and Oil and the Heat and Strategy Policy Team Department of Energy & Climate Change

3rd Floor Area A
3 Whitehall Place
London, SW1A 2AW

Or via the electronic consultation portal found here.

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