We have recently received a number of questions relating to fracking after the government issued guidance, advice and a consultation on the matter.
What guidance and consultation papers has the government issued?
The government has published three separate papers:
Developing shale oil and gas in the UK was published by the Department of Energy & Climate Change on 13 August 2015 and is a very comprehensive and wide-ranging guidance document. It addresses the potential of shale gas and oil, environmental issues, regulations and areas subject to exploration. Read the government's Guidance on fracking: developing shale oil and gas in the UK.
Faster decision making on shale gas for economic growth and energy security was also published on 13 August 2015 by the Department of Energy & Climate Change and the Department for Communities and Local Government. This is a more specific guidance document which sets out the government's expectations for speedy decision making on applications of this nature. Read the government's news story Faster decision making on shale gas for economic growth and energy security.
Habitats regulations assessment of 14th onshore oil and gas licensing round was published by the Oil and Gas Authority and the Department of Energy & Climate Change on 18 August 2015. This is a very technical report which incorporates a habitats regulations assessment of the sites being considered for the next round of licences. Read the Habitats Regulations Assessments of 14th onshore oil and gas licensing round.
How do these government documents affect Herefordshire?
The UK landscape is divided into 10 kilometre by 10 kilometre squares and two of these squares partly impact on Herefordshire as follows:
- Block 51: Whitchurch, Welsh Newton, Goodrich and Kerne Bridge
- Block 61: Hope Mansell
These blocks are shown on pages 103 and 106 of the map included in Appendix E of the habitats regulations assessment of 14th onshore oil and gas licensing round technical paper.
What comments are being sought?
Please note that these blocks do not represent either a formal planning application or the government's intention to issue a fracking licence. The purpose of the habitats regulations assessment is explained on pages 6 and 7 of the government's consultation on proposed assessment. The government has asked for comments on the methodology it has followed in determining whether or not any further detailed assessment is required before individual decisions are made on licence applications. The consultation which was open to everyone closed on 29 September 2015.
Who decides if an exploration licence can be granted?
The decision will eventually be made by the Department of Energy & Climate Change on the basis of the contents of the Petroleum Act 1998. The current consultation on proposed assessment forms part of the process.
On what basis will the council determine any fracking planning applications?
At this stage, it is not possible to anticipate the outcome of either the exploration licence applications or the results of any explorations.
Any subsequent planning applications will be determined on their merits and based on national and local planning policy in place at that time. In Herefordshire, there are several mineral policies from the 2007 Unitary Development Plan, which will be amalgamated into the council's new Minerals and Waste Local Plan, which is due to be adopted in 2016/17.
There will be opportunities for members of the public and other interested organisations to comment at key preparation stages of the new Minerals and Waste Local Plan.