The UK government announced on Thursday plans to facilitate timely decisions on shale gas exploration planning applications in England as part of a plan to reduce dependence on gas imports amid an ongoing decline in the UK North Sea’s conventional gas production.
“Despite the welcome improvements in efficiency and innovation from companies operating in the North Sea, the ongoing decline in our offshore gas production has meant that the UK has gone from being a net exporter of gas in 2003 to importing over half (53%) of gas supplies in 2017 and estimates suggest we could be importing 72% of our gas by 2030,” Greg Clark, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and James Brokenshire, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, said in a statement on Thursday.
“Our current import mix, via pipelines from Norway and Continental Europe and LNG terminals that can source gas from around the world, provides us with stable and secure supplies. However, we believe that it is right to utilise our domestic gas resources to the maximum extent and exploring further the potential for onshore gas production from shale rock formations in the UK, where it is economically efficient, and where environment impacts are robustly regulated,” they wrote.
“The Government remains fully committed to making planning decisions faster and fairer for all those affected by new development, and to ensure that local communities are fully involved in planning decisions that affect them,” the ministers said.
The industry welcomed the news. Francis Egan, CEO at Cuadrilla Resources, which has received permission to drill and test shale gas wells, said:
“In particular we welcome the measures the Government has introduced on making the planning process “faster and fairer” and providing additional resources to help local authorities. Our planning permission to drill and test just four shale gas exploratory wells in Lancashire was granted after a lengthy and costly three year process.”
Environmentalists were outraged.
Greenpeace UK said that “The government says test drilling for oil and gas should be as easy as building a garden wall, so they’re relaxing planning rules to help it along.”
“This is absolutely shocking,” Caroline Lucas, MP for Brighton Pavilion and co-leader of the Green Party, wrote on Twitter.
“This announcement is a green light for climate breakdown. We need to be keeping gas in the ground, and investing in renewables,” Lucas said.
“This announcement signals an outright assault on local communities’ ability to exercise their democratic rights in influencing fracking applications. It reads like a wish list from the fracking companies themselves,” said Daniel Carey-Dawes, Senior Infrastructure Campaigner at the Campaign to Protect Rural England.