Ministers today opened the bidding process for companies seeking licences to explore for onshore oil and gas, to help discover how the gas under our feet can help power our homes.
Business and Energy Minister Matthew Hancock published details of how companies can apply for licences which will enable them to start initial exploration for shale gas.
The licences provide the first step to starting drilling – but do not give absolute agreement to drill. On top of a licence, any further drilling application will then require planning permission, as well as permits from the Environment Agency and sign-off from the Health and Safety Executive.
Communities Minister Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon also made clear the government’s approach for unconventional hydrocarbons by providing some additional planning guidance for:
- Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty
- World Heritage Sites
- National Parks
- the Broads
To be certain that this guidance is being applied, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles will give particular consideration to recovering planning appeals arising from these types of developments for at least the next 12 months.
DECC will also require detailed Statements of Environmental Awareness to be submitted with licence applications to these areas, to demonstrate applicants’ understanding of the environmental sensitivities relevant to the area proposed.
Unless DECC is satisfied with the Statement the application will be rejected.
Business and Energy Minister Matthew Hancock said:
Unlocking shale gas in Britain has the potential to provide us with greater energy security, jobs and growth. We must act carefully, minimising risks, to explore how much of our large resource can be recovered to give the UK a new home-grown source of energy. As one of the cleanest fossil fuels, shale gas can be a key part of the UK’s answer to climate change and a bridge to a much greener future.
The new guidance published today will protect Britain’s great national parks and outstanding landscapes. Building on the existing rules that ensure operational best practices are implemented and robustly enforced. Ultimately, done right, speeding up shale will mean more jobs and opportunities for people and help ensure long-term economic and energy security for our country.
Communities Minister Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon said:
Effective exploration and testing of the UK’s unconventional gas resources is key to understanding the potential for this industry – so the government is creating the right framework to accelerate unconventional oil and gas development in a responsible and sustainable way.
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.
For this reason, I am today making clear our approach to planning for unconventional hydrocarbons in National Parks, the Broads, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and World Heritage Sites.
Proposals for such development must recognise the importance of these sites.
- The planning guidance is available on the Minerals section of the government’s planning guidance website.
- Details of how to apply are available on the GOV.UK website.
A statement has also been made to parliament on this.
The government has also published a “regulatory roadmap” setting out the overall process as it applies to the different nations of the UK.
- DCLG will publish new planning guidance regarding unconventional oil and gas developments in National Parks, the Broads, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and World Heritage Sites in England. It is clear that applications should be refused in these areas other than in exceptional circumstances and in the public interest.
- Where an application in these areas is refused locally and the developer appeals against that decision, Communities and Local Government Secretary of State Eric Pickles will consider whether to decide the appeal himself during the coming 12 months, to ensure the guidance is being properly applied. DCLG will review whether to continue doing so beyond that period.
- DECC’s guidance for licence applicants will make clear that DECC will require the Statement of Environmental Awareness which forms part of the application to be particularly comprehensive and detailed where the licences applied for are in or adjacent to these areas. Unless DECC is satisfied with the Statement the application will be rejected. In addition, companies must meet DECC’s requirements for technical competence and financial capacity.
- The grant of a licence does not mean that an operator can immediately start drilling. All oil and gas exploration has to meet the demanding requirements of the UK’s tough regulatory regime. In particular, operators require planning permission, appropriate permits from the relevant environmental regulator, and must meet HSE’s scrutiny of the safety of their proposed operations. The UK has a strong track record of robustly regulating the energy sector and there are tough regulations and requirements in place to ensure on-site safety, prevent water contamination, and mitigate against seismic activity and air pollution.
- DECC has conducted a strategic environmental assessment (SEA) for further onshore licensing, which was published for public consultation from 17 December to 28 March. DECC Ministers have considered all the responses to this consultation before deciding to proceed with a new licensing Round.
A map of the licence areas is available on GOV.UK.