Applications for shale gas production, often referred to as ‘fracking’, are currently submitted to local mineral planning authorities.
Ministers have suggested future shale gas production projects could be required to obtain development consent under the Planning Act 2008's NSIP regime - mirroring the process for other major energy projects such as wind farms and gas-fired generation stations.
A government consultation on the issue published earlier this month says that "automatically including eligible major shale gas production projects into the NSIP regime would bring such applications into a well-defined process with clear, established governance and timelines designed for larger and more complex infrastructure projects".
The consultation seeks views on the criteria by which shale gas production projects should be judged nationally significant and the most appropriate point at which the NSIP regime should start dealing with such proposals.
Possible criteria for projects to be brought into the NSIP regime could be the number of wells, the estimated total volume of recoverable gas, and the estimated production rate.
The consultation states that, while large-scale shale gas production is likely to be many years away, applications for the first production sites could be received in the coming years.
Views are therefore being sought on whether fracking should be added to the NSIP regime in advance of any shale gas production applications or only once a certain number of exploration and appraisal activity has taken place.
Shale gas projects involving exploration or appraisal would continue to be dealt with under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, according to the consultation. These could be allowed under permitted development rights, according to a separate consultation published earlier this month.
The consultation runs until 25 October 2018.