Government confirms fracking moratorium and drops proposed easing of planning rules

The government has today confirmed a moratorium on fracking in England and announced that it has ditched proposals to ease planning rules for the controversial activity, including the introduction of permitted development (PD) rights for fracking exploration schemes.

Police guard Lancashire fracking project. Image by the Network for Police Monitoring, Flickr
Police guard Lancashire fracking project. Image by the Network for Police Monitoring, Flickr

Last week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the government was to make "an announcement" on the future of shale gas fracking in the wake of "very considerable" public concern. 

A written ministerial statement from energy secretary Andrea Leadsom today has announced that the government would take a presumption against issuing any further consents for fracking. 

In a separate statement issued by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), Leadsom said: "After reviewing the Oil and Gas Authority’s report into recent seismic activity at Preston New Road, it is clear that we cannot rule out future unacceptable impacts on the local community.

"For this reason, I have concluded that we should put a moratorium on fracking in England with immediate effect."

The WMS went on to say: "On the basis of the current scientific evidence, Government is confirming today that it will take a presumption against issuing any further Hydraulic Fracturing Consents."

Such consents are issued by the government in addition to planning consents before any fracking can take place.

Leadsom's WMS said the moratorium "will be maintained until compelling new evidence is provided which addresses the concerns around the prediction and management of induced seismicity". 

It went on to "confirm that the government will not be taking forward proposed planning reforms in relation to shale gas that were subject to consultation last year".

It adds: "These include the proposals on the principles of a permitted development right for non-hydraulic exploratory shale gas development; making community pre-application consultation compulsory for shale gas development; and proposals to bring shale production development into the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIP) regime." 

Alongside the announcement, the government published its responses to these consultations on easing planning consents for fracking. 

A Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’ response to its consultation on extending PD rights to fracking projects exploring for shale gas said 97.5 per cent of respondents opposed the measure.

Local authorities objected due to a "lack of local involvement in the decision-making process, especially for what many considered to be a technically complex and contentious form of development, and that robust, open, scrutiny through the planning application process is required".

The government said: "It is our view that while there could be considerable merit in taking forward these proposals in the future, the sector in the UK is at too early a stage in its development to properly assess the impact of the measures or their ability to deliver changes suitable for the future potential planning needs of industry.

"The consultation has also identified that there is little consensus on what the measures would look like or the degree to which they would be worthwhile currently."

A separate BEIS response to its consultation on including major shale gas projects in the NSIP regime said that 83 per cent of respondents had opposed the proposal. 

The department’s response said: "…it is our view that while the UK shale industry remains at an early exploratory stage including the production phase into the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) regime would be premature".

But it added: "Under current provisions, where a developer considers that a shale production project is of national significance, they can apply for the scheme to be considered through the NSIP regime under section 35 of the Planning Act 2008.

"This will remain the case and applications for directions to bring projects into the regime will continue to be judged on a case by case basis."

However, it warned that developers should have regard to Leadsom’s statement on consents in deciding whether to bring forward developments.

It said: "While future applications will be considered on their own merits by the secretary of state in accordance with the law, the shale gas industry should take the government’s position into account when considering new developments."

In a response to a third related consultation, the government rejected the idea of introducing compulsory community pre-application consultation on proposals for shale gas development.

The MHCLG response said: "As the respondents have identified, the planning system already features statutory mechanisms to ensure communities are adequately consulted on development proposals."

In October, the Scottish government’s chief planner wrote to Scottish councils informing them that planning permission for any unconventional oil and gas project should now be refused. 

In June, the government removed a paragraph from the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) intended to support the extraction of "unconventional hydrocarbons" following a High Court ruling earlier this year which found that a public consultation on the policy was flawed.

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