Moving decision making on onshore oil and gas exploration planning applications to a national level contradicts the principles of localism and would likely exacerbate existing mistrust between communities and the fracking industry.
Today’s report into planning guidance on fracking by MPs on the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee warns the government against its proposed move to bring applications under the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIP) regime.
The Committee concludes that Mineral Planning Authorities are best placed to understand the local area and how fracking can best take place (in England).
Onshore oil and gas planning / exploration licences are now ultimately decided by England’s local government minister as these are deemed part of national infrastructure significance – above the heads of local cooncillors.
In Scotland, the Scot-Govt continues to apply a de facto ban on plannning applications for onshore oil and gas exploration – which uses the same hydraulic fracturing (or ‘fracking’) technique used day and daily onshore in the North Sea oil and gas industry.
However, this Scot-Govt ‘ban’ may be over-ruled after Brexit under powers over environmental law which the UK government intends to withhold from the Scottish Parliament instead of re-patriating these laws from Brussels to Holyrood in March 2019.
Meanwhile, in the Republic of Ireland, a proposed ban on oil and gas exploration would undermine energy security and do little for the environment, according to the country’s largest business lobby group
The Petroleum and Other Minerals Development (Amendment) Bill, put forward as a private member’s bill by Solidarity-People Before Profit, proposes to stop the issuing of new exploration licences for fossil fuels.
But lobby group IBEC said the “vital role” of natural gas in the economy should not be overlooked. Conor Minogue, senior energy executive with Ibec, said that the proposed bill could increase greenhouse gas emissions because Ireland would be importing natural gas from as far away as Russia.
Labour MP Clive Betts, Chairman of the Westminster parliament’s Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, commented: “Taking decision making powers away from local planning authorities would be a backward step.
‘It would remove the important link between fracking applications and Local Plans and be hugely harmful to local democracy and the principles and spirit of localism. It is Mineral Planning Authorities that have the knowledge of their areas needed to judge the impacts of fracking, not Ministers sitting in Whitehall.’
The MPs’ report states that, should the government press ahead with plans to include fracking in the NSIP regime, a National Policy Statement must be produced urgently to ensure cumulative impact of applications is considered automatically and every decision is consistent with Local Plans.
The report also calls for an online ‘one-stop shop’ for all fracking guidance and policy documents, to be hosted by a newly created ‘Shale Information and Coordination Service’. The current disparate guidance hinders understanding, transparency and engagement with fracking applications, the Committee says.
Ken Cronin, Chief Executive, UK Onshore Oil & Gas (UKOOG), commented: ‘We do not support the Committee’s recommendations opposing Government proposals on permitted development rights and national planning.
‘The report fails to address a main concern of both the industry and local communities, which is the fact that planning applications for even the simplest of wells now take up to 18 months to conclude and that many of the professional planning officers’ recommendations are ignored.
‘This leaves communities with uncertainty and local taxpayers with a huge bill to foot, and is against the experience of the previous 10 years where most applications were decided in less than four months and against a statutory timescale of three months.
‘On national planning, the Government’s recent Written Ministerial Statement reiterated its position that ‘shale gas development is of national importance’. However, the Committee has taken the view that shale gas sites should not be treated as Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs).
‘With gas providing half of British electricity, over 80% of our heating and vital feedstocks to industry, we find it concerning that the Committee would seek restrict our opportunity for homegrown production to replace our rapidly increasing dependency on imported gas and oil.’
5 Jul 2018