Press release

Government proposals to simplify deep underground access for shale gas and geothermal industries

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The government is launching a consultation on proposals to simplify the existing procedure for shale gas and deep geothermal underground drilling access.

The Government is launching a consultation on proposals to simplify the existing procedure for shale gas and oil and deep geothermal underground drilling access.

The new proposals would simplify procedures which are costly time-consuming and disproportionate for new methods of underground drilling. Oil, gas and deep geothermal companies will be able to explore their potential, and will in return provide a voluntary community payment for access.

The proposals are:

  • Underground right of access for shale gas and deep geothermal operations only below 300m (nearly 1000ft);
  • A voluntary community payment of £20,000 per lateral well; and
  • A clear notification system to alert local people.

Business and Energy Minister Michael Fallon said:

“Britain needs more home-grown energy. Shale development will bring jobs and business opportunities.

“We are keen for shale and geothermal exploration to go ahead while protecting residents through the robust regulation that is in place.

“These proposals allow shale and geothermal development while offering a fair deal for communities in return for underground access at depths so deep they will have no negative impact on landowners.”

A company looking to develop shale or geothermal will still need to obtain all the necessary permissions. There are controls in place to regulate seismicity, environmental impacts and planning impacts and there are numerous opportunities for local communities to engage ahead of any development.

Many other industries already access underground land beneath people’s homes in order to lay cables and build infrastructure such as water pipes and tunnels. These are much closer to the surface than the access concerned here. For example the deepest Tube station is around 32m below ground - drilling for gas, oil and deep geothermal energy is much deeper and these proposals would only apply from 300 metres down. It is expected that hydraulic fracturing will typically occur at depths more than a mile down.*

This consultation will be open for 12 weeks. Once feedback has been considered, the Government will announce next steps.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change has also published today a further report by the British Geological Survey on shale gas resources in Great Britain. The new report assesses the resources of the Jurassic shales of the Weald.

The new Weald report follows a report published last year on the Bowland-Hodder shales of northern England. These reports estimate the oil and gas resources of the formations studied, (the oil or gas in the ground) - these are not reserves. For the Weald area, the BGS concludes there is unlikely to be any shale gas potential, but a reasonable central estimate for shale oil is 4.4bn barrels in the ground- again these are not reserves.

A further DECC/BGS report, on the Midland Valley of Scotland, is in preparation.

Notes to Editors:

  • The consultation can be found on GOV.UK
  • The shale and geothermal industry has put forward a voluntary offer for a payment system which will involve a £20,000 one-off payment for each unique lateral (horizontal) well that extends by more than 200 metres laterally. The payment will be made at a community level.
  • Currently, companies must negotiate rights of access with every landowner living above underground drilling, even though the works take place far beneath the surface (up to 5000 feet).
  • They have to negotiate the same rights for access at the surface, which we believe is proportionate given that the landowner will see some impact to their land. The identification and negotiation process can require significant time and resource. There is no standardised process for this and the landowner can request any terms in return for the access.
  • The current process in relation to underground access gives a single landowner the power to significantly delay a development regardless of how others in their community feel about it.
  • If these negotiations fail, an oil and gas operator can refer the matter to the court via the Secretary of State, which is very likely to grant access, given that the development is likely to be expedient in the national interest. However, this court process would be lengthy and expensive for both the company and the landowner.
  • A geothermal company does not have the same process for acquiring access rights. If they cannot obtain access through negotiation, they must either re-plan their drill path or abandon the project.
  • These proposals do not affect the existing system for obtaining access to surface land, or any of the other permits or licences required to develop these resources.

*This line was updated on 19 September 2014 to reflect the text in the government consultation.