Thank you for contacting me about shale gas.
The safe development of shale gas will be good for jobs, good for our energy security, and help the UK to decarbonise its economy. We need a diverse energy mix, and shale gas can play a part in that.
I believe that the right protections are in place to ensure that fracking can go ahead safely without risk to our most beautiful and important natural sites. People should have confidence that the UK’s world-leading environmental regulations will deliver clean, safe shale gas extraction. With these protections in place, I think it is right that we explore and make use of shale gas and oil.
Regulations now protect some of the country’s most beautiful areas, including National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, meaning shale gas exploration cannot take place at depths of less than 1,200 metres in these areas. The Government is also committed to banning wells drilled at the surface of these areas or within Sites of Special Scientific Interest.
Shale development has the potential to deliver substantial economic benefits to local communities where supplies are located as well as to the UK economy. I am glad that the Government remains committed to protecting the environment and ensuring that shale exploration happens safely.
A consultation was carried out last year to consider whether the early stages of shale exploration should be treated as permitted development, and in particular the circumstances where this might be appropriate. This would allow early exploratory work to proceed without requiring planning applications, although planning applications would still be required for fracking. I should note that permitted development rights would still require consent from the Environment Agency, the Health and Safety Executive and the Oil and Gas Authority, and only cover planning aspects of development and do not remove requirements for permitting, environmental licensing or environmental legislation.
Other measures include strengthening community engagement by consulting on the potential to make pre-application consultations a statutory requirement, and launching a new £1.6 million shale support fund over the next two years to build capacity in local authorities dealing with shale applications.
A new Planning Brokerage Service for shale applications will also be created, to provide guidance to developers and local authorities on the planning process in order to speed up decision making. Furthermore, to simplify the complex UK regulatory regime for shale gas, a new Shale Environmental Regulator will also be set up, to act as a single coherent face for the public, mineral planning authorities, and industry.
I am pleased that the Government understands that it is critical for the industry to have the confidence of the public if it is to flourish in the long term.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
Craig Whittaker MP