Trespass law overhauled to make it easier for frackers: Firms will be able to access underground gas without asking landowners for permission
- Scientists say UK is sitting on enough shale gas for 40 years' supply
- But critics warn fracking can pollute water and could cause earthquakes
- New rules will make it easier to fracking firms to ignore objections
Ministers are preparing an overhaul of trespass legislation to make it easier for firms to ignore objections.
One source said the reform, which will infuriate anti-fracking campaigners, was likely to be included in the Queen’s Speech setting out the Government’s plans for its final year.
Chancellor George Osborne is offering generous tax breaks to kickstart the technology. He believes fracking for shale gas could herald an energy revolution that will boost the economy, make Britain more self-sufficient and put an end to sky-high bills from greedy energy firms.
Scientists say the UK is sitting on deposits of enough shale gas to supply the whole country for at least 40 years, mirroring the North Sea oil boom of the Seventies.
Shale gas development has taken off in the US, using the controversial process of fracking – or hydraulic fracturing. Underground gas deposits are extracted by fracturing shale rock with high-pressure blasts of water, sand and chemicals.
Opponents warn that the process risks causing earthquakes, polluting water, blighting the countryside and affecting house prices.
Shale gas exploration involves sinking a vertical well and exploring out from it horizontally, often for more than a mile. Environmental campaigners and residents have demonstrated against fracking, clashing with police at well sites such as Balcombe, West Sussex.
Under current law, firms need permission from owners of land over fracking tunnels. If the owners object, a developer has to take them to court to overturn their objections and agree compensation.
HOW THE RULES DELAY THE DRILLS
Ministers are issuing licences for developers applying to sink exploratory wells.
Typically, fracking involves horizontal exploration a mile or more from the central vertical well, meaning many different landowners could be involved.
However, laws dating back to the mid-Sixties mean landowners must not withhold permission if drilling under their land is to go ahead.
Developers are able to try to overturn any such objection in court, but judges would consider why permission was withheld and whether reasonable efforts have been made to reach an accommodation.
They could order compensation be paid even if they overturn an objection and cases can take years to resolve, creating an obstacle to development.
Landowners in the Sussex Downs National Park, including City fund manager Marcus Adams, plan to use the existing law to block development.
Mr Adams said: ‘People across the country have legitimate concerns about the impact of fracking, from water contamination to air and noise pollution.
'But all this happening in a national park just doesn’t bear thinking about.’
The reform of the law would extend the existing rights of water, gas and coal mining firms, set out in the Coal Act 1998, to go under people’s land without permission.
Compensation of around £100 is likely to be offered to landowners.
The revamp would also apply to the geothermal wells that harness heat from deep in the earth.
Developers need to drill on land in urban areas, with one proposed project in Manchester likely to involve exploration under 5,000 homes.
The Department for Energy and Climate Change said: ‘Operators prefer to agree through negotiation with the landowner, but there is an existing legal route by which they can apply for access where this can’t be negotiated. We’re considering whether this is fit for purpose.’
NWN: It's a big NO to big business and the 'fracking industry !