New planning guidance has recently been issued by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) for onshore oil and gas developments, including shale gas and coal bed methane. The emergence of shale gas by fracking (or hydraulic fracturing) has been a key driver in developing the guidance.
This provides an overview of how the planning regime is intended to operate alongside other regulatory regimes. Minerals Planning Authorities (MPAs) grant permission for the location of any wells and wellpads, and can impose conditions to ensure that the impact on the use of the land is acceptable (for example noise, dust, air quality, visual, archaeological and highway impacts).
The guidance highlights those aspects of these developments which are not matters for the MPAs, or where the MPAs should assume that the other regimes will operate effectively. Key examples of this are:-
- Mitigation of seismic risks – these will be dealt with by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), usually through the Petroleum Licence, particularly where the extraction is taking place by hydraulic fracturing.
- Well design, construction and integrity during operation – is monitored by the Health and Safety Executive.
- Mining waste and chemical content of hydraulic fracturing fluid – will be monitored by the Environment Agency as part of the environmental permitting for any hydrocarbon extraction or hydraulic fracturing operation.
The guidance also makes clear that MPAs should give "great weight to the benefits of minerals extraction, including to the economy, when determining planning applications", and should not consider demand for, or consider alternatives to oil and gas resources.
DCLG hopes that this guidance will help to create "the right framework to accelerate shale gas development in a responsible and sustainable way".
Opponents of shale gas development have, however, argued that these planning guidelines (on which the Government are not proposing to consult) are trying to restrict MPA's ability to consider seismic, environmental and other issues, and effectively create a presumption in favour of fracking.
It will be interesting to see what effect these guidelines will have as new fracking proposals are brought forward.
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