Government opens up UK to onshore oil and gas exploration

30th July 2014

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The government's new onshore licensing round, covering a large portion of the UK, is now open for companies seeking permission to explore for unconventional oil and gas resources.

The regions most likely to attract interest from energy companies include the Bowland basin in the north of England, the Weald basin in the south and the Midland Valley covering central Scotland.

National parks, the Broads, areas of outstanding natural beauty, World Heritage sites and other protected areas that lie above potential oil and gas shale deposits are not excluded from fracking licenses, but are subject to new planning rules and ministerial approval.

Launching the new 14th licencing round, communities minister Lord Ahmad, said: “We recognise there are areas of outstanding landscape and scenic beauty where the environmental and heritage qualities need to be carefully balanced against the benefits of oil and gas from unconventional hydrocarbons.”

The department for communities and local government (Dclg) has published new planning requirements for drilling in sensitive areas, stating that applications should be refused in these areas except in “exceptional circumstances” and where it can be demonstrated they are in the public interest. In addition, Decc requires a statement of environmental awareness and details of technical competence before a licence can be granted.

The new planning guidance is intended to protect national parks and other sensitive environments. Even where a licence is granted, drilling companies still require appropriate permits from the Environment Agency and must meet HSE safety requirements before drilling is allowed. Additional planning conditions can also be imposed to ensure that development is made acceptable in planning terms before it can proceed. In the event of a planning application being refused by planning authorities, companies can appeal directly to Dclg secretary Eric Pickles.

The all-party parliamentary group on unconventional oil and gas described the new licencing round as a “significant milestone” and called on the industry to adopt and maintain the highest standards of environmental stewardship and community engagement.

Communities remain divided over fracking, with roughly half the population expressing concerns over the potential impacts on the natural environment, according to recent surveys carried out by Nottingham University.

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