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Onshore Oil and Gas Development (Planning Applications)

Volume 572: debated on Wednesday 18 December 2013

The coalition Government are committed to a diverse, efficient and low-carbon energy supply, but recognise that gas and other low-carbon technologies, will continue to play an important role in our energy mix in the coming decades as the country moves to a low-carbon economy. In particular, shale gas has the potential to provide our country with greater energy security, growth and jobs.

As announced on 2 September 2013, Official Report, column 9WS, my Department has been consulting on making technical improvements to the process for planning applications for handling extraction of onshore oil and gas (including shale gas). Today, my Department has laid secondary legislation in relation to application requirements for onshore oil and gas development. These seek to amend the way in which landowners and tenants are notified of an application.

We have introduced these changes because underground operations for oil and gas operations are different in character from other forms of development. This is because the development on the surface is limited in scale and takes place on a relatively small surface area. The associated underground extraction takes place very deep below the earth’s surface, over a wide geographical area. As a result, it is often not possible to identify the exact route of any lateral drilling.

Without the changes to the secondary legislation, the widely-drawn area on planning applications for onshore oil and gas projects would require the notification of a disproportionately large number of individuals and businesses. This would be unnecessarily excessive when other forms of complimentary notification exist.

In practical terms, in place of the blanket notification, the changes mean that applicants who are applying for planning permission for onshore oil and gas projects will now be required to publish a notice in a local newspaper and put up site displays in local parishes. In addition, a new requirement has been introduced for a site display to be set up in every local authority ward where no parish exists, or where the parish only covers part of the ward.

These measures do not affect or alter any voluntary pre-application consultation between the applicant and local communities (including landowners), or any other publicity or consultation requirements that planning applications must go through. The local authority and local councillors are also able to supplement this with any further moves to increase public awareness that they deem appropriate.

We consider that these measures strike the right balance between the need to notify land owners and tenants, while ensuring the implementation for applicant is proportionate and pragmatic in the unique circumstances of onshore oil and gas development.

My Department has also published the technical draft regulations to clarify the arrangements that the fee payable for onshore oil and gas should be calculated on the basis of the area of the above ground works only. Together, we consider that these changes will help provide certainty to councils, residents and industry.

I would add that the planning system is accompanied by separate environmental and health and safety provisions (overseen by the Department of Energy and Climate Change, by the Environment Agency and by the Health and Safety Executive) ensuring that a robust, comprehensive and safe regulatory regime is in place.