(Reuters) – The British government will give its communities minister the power to directly approve shale gas permits, removing decision-making from local politicians who have in the past months blocked the progress of Britain’s first such wells.
In late June, local government officials in northwest England rejected two applications to carry out hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, saying the projects would be too noisy and blight the landscape.
New rules, applicable immediately, will allow government intervention to approve or reject permits and will also mean appeals involving shale gas projects will be given priority.
Shale gas developer Cuadrilla Resources, whose applications were rejected in June, has already decided to appeal against its permit refusals.
Delays to the planning process had been too long, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Amber Rudd told BBC TV on Thursday.
“Local authorities are still going to be very much involved, but the Secretary for State for communities and local government will now have a increased role in making sure they stick to the planning timetable,” she added.
The government also said it would present proposals later this year to create a sovereign wealth fund from returns generated from shale gas production.
Shale developer IGas Energy said the move gave clarity on the timetable for determining planning decisions for shale oil and gas exploration.
Pro-business groups also welcomed the decision, saying it would help get shale gas projects up and running.
Britain is estimated to have substantial amounts of shale gas trapped in underground rocks and the government has been supportive of developing these reserves to counter declining North Sea oil and gas output.
However, progress has been slow because of opposition by local residents and environmental campaigners. Some are concerned about groundwater contamination from chemicals used in the process, while others fear the potential impact on property prices or tourism.
Some environmental groups said the government’s decision would shut out local communities from crucial decisions.
The government has treated onshore wind power differently. In May, it said it plans to transfer consenting power for large onshore wind from the energy minister to local planning authorities in England.
Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Caroline Flint, said this showed the government was “clearly guilty of double standards”.
BY KAROLIN SCHAPS AND NINA CHESTNEY (Additional reporting by Andrew Callus, Kylie MacLellan, Kate Holton and William James; Editing by David Evans and Keith Weir)