UK Energy Minister opens new Scots and English onshore oil and gas exploration licensing round


BGS Scottish shale gas and oil field map
BGS Scottish shale gas and oil field map

UK Energy Minister Matthew Hancock has formally opened the bidding process for companies seeking licences by publishing details of how companies can apply for licences which will enable them to start initial exploration for shale gas.

The Department for Energy and Climate Change’s announcement invites companies to tender for exclusive rights to exploit shale gas and other unconventional fossil fuels. The launch of this latest licensing round – the first in six years – follows the publication of research from the British Geological Survey identifying the most likely areas where shale may be found.

Up to 20,000 square km across central and southern Scotland has been offered for unconventional fossil fuel exploitation.

The licences provide the first step to starting drilling – but do not give absolute agreement to drill. On top of a licence, any further drilling application will then require planning permission, as well as permits from the Environment Agency and sign-off from the Health and Safety Executive.

In England, Communities Minister Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon also made clear the government’s approach for unconventional hydrocarbons by providing some additional planning guidance for:

  • Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty
  • World Heritage Sites
  • National Parks
  • the Broads

To be certain that this guidance is being applied, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles will give particular consideration to recovering planning appeals arising from these types of developments for at least the next 12 months.

In Scotland, Energy Minister Fergus Ewing last month announced new planning guidelines relating to shale exploration licences – including introducing the concept of ‘buffer zones’ from wind-farming applications.

UK Minister Hancock commented: “Unlocking shale gas inrisks, to explore how much of our large resource can be recovered to give the UK a new home-grown sourc Britain has the potential to provide us with greater energy security, jobs and growth. We must act carefully, minimising e of energy.

As one of the cleanest fossil fuels, shale gas can be a key part of the UK’s answer to climate change and a bridge to a much greener future.”

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon added: “This Coalition government believes that shale gas has the potential to provide the UK with greater energy security, growth and jobs. Effective exploration and testing of the UK’s unconventional gas resources is key to understanding the potential for this industry so the government is creating the right framework to accelerate unconventional oil and gas development in a responsible and sustainable way.

“That is why we have put in place an effective planning system to support unconventional oil and gas production in this country. We have amended regulations to streamline notification requirements and the calculation of fees to speed up the determination of planning applications, whilst ensuring the public are properly informed of planning applications in their locality.”

Scottish Energy Minister Fergus Ewing commented: “In our recently-published Scottish Planning Policy, which gave serious consideration to concerns over unconventional oil and gas, we detailed five main changes to strengthen planning policy. These include new rules on hydraulic fracturing, which will compel operators to consult with the public, and buffer zones to protect communities which will be assessed by planning authorities and statutory consultees.

“Any application for coalbed methane or shale gas projects must comply with the appropriate regulatory regimes, including SEPA’s guidance on the regulation of shale gas and coalbed methane.”

The five main changes in the recently published Scottish Planning Policy relating to onshore unconventional oil and gas extraction are:

  1. Confirmation that the concept of buffer zones should be applied to all proposals for the first time;
  2. Putting in place an additional requirement for risk assessments to be prepared, using a source-pathway-receptor model, to ensure a transparent and evidence-based approach to assessing whether proposed buffer zones are acceptable;
  3. Making explicit that buffer zones will be assessed by the planning authority and statutory consultees, with a strong expectation that planning permission should be refused if they are unacceptable;
  4. Ensuring that operators are upfront about their plans and that communities are consulted on all unconventional gas developments, including close involvement in the risk assessment process;
  5. Requiring a fresh planning application (and public consultation) if permission was not sought for hydraulic fracturing but developers subsequently intend to undertake this process.

Mary Church, Head of Campaigns, Friends of the Earth Scotland, commented: “Under UK Government plans some of the most densely populated parts of Scotland could end up with the fracking industry as neighbours. Tens of thousands of people will be understandably worried about what this means for their homes, their health and their local environment.”

* In Scotland, Dart Energy’s proposal for commercial coalbed methane extraction at Airth, near Stirling – a potential shale ‘sweetsport’ identified in the British Geological Survey report – remains the most advanced onshore unconventional gas project in the UK. The Department for Planning and Environmental Appeals is currently taking further evidence on the new Scottish planning policy before making a decision on that application.



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