Proposed new UK rules to speed up the discovery and recovery of onshore gas – shale – will not apply to Scotland, the Government announced last night in the face of Westminster opposition from the SNP and Labour.
The Scottish Government is to have the power to prevent onshore shale gas drilling going ahead under landowners property without them having to give permission.
The political concession was announced last night at Westminster by the UK Government during debate on the Infrastructure Bill – which provides for the Dept of Energy to issue permits for deep onshore shale drilling without landowners’ permission.
The UK government is keen to exploit the potential economic and energy benefits of UK shale – which has seen the USA become almost self-sufficient in oil – and plans to curtail landowners’ rights to a depth of a few hundred metres, in the same way that property owners’ rights to the airspace above them is curtailed to enable the aviation industry to function.
However, the SNP opposed the measure and the Labour party had lodged amendments to the Bill requesting that full powers over shale gas exploration be given to the Scottish Parliament ahead of the general election in five months’ time.
The coalition UK government did not back accept these suggestions but instead pledged to exclude Scotland from the impending legislation under the Infrastructure Bill
Based on that offer the Scotland Office said “the opposition was content to withdraw its amendments” A spokesman explained: “The effect is to leave the current arrangement in Scotland as they stand at present (ie requiring landowners’ permission) so the new system for underground access will not apply.”
This does not mean that onshore drilling for shale gas in Scotland is prohibited – rather that more onerous laws and special planning conditions and ‘buffer zones’ announced by the Scot-Govt last year will provide more hurdles for developers to overcome.***
Whilst environmental groups are concerned about public safety, a report published in October last year by Public Health England (part of the NHS) said that the risks to public health from exposure to emissions from shale gas extraction are low if operations are properly run and regulated.
SNP energy spokesperson Mike Weir MP said: “The UK Infrastructure Bill seeks to introduce a right for frackers to operate under land and homes without the owners consent, overturning the right under present law for the matter to be determined by a court should there be disagreement.
“This is unacceptable since it effectively removes an owners’ right to object to operations under their property. “Frankly it is not at all clear how the rights under this bill, under the Petroleum Act 1998, the Mines Act of 1966 and Planning Law interact and the clear and sensible thing to do would be to bring all these matters under the control of the Scottish Government before fracking becomes established.
“The UK government seem determined to do whatever is necessary to get fracking underway.”
*** Note to lawyers, developers and consultants: these new rules are reported in detail and can be viewed by an on-site search through our online archives at ScottishEnergyNews.com