Democracy in action?

It is amazing that there is now consideration being given to allow those affected by shale gas development to have a say whether it should take place in their “backyard.” Jim Pickard writes a good article in the Financial Times about a recent survey.

Majority opposes fracking without residents’ approval

Plans to allow fracking companies to drill deep under people’s homes without residents’ permission are opposed by three-quarters of the British public, according to a new poll.

Only 13 per cent of 1,898 res­pondents to the YouGov survey backed the move, which is expected in next month’s Queen’s Speech – with 74 per cent not in favour.

The survey comes as a coalition of environmental groups including the RSPB, Friends of the Earth and the Wildlife Trusts writes to David Cameron to criticise the plans.

They argue that under-house drilling should only occur with the permission of homeowners. “The rush to change property rights will further erode public trust in the government’s approach to fracking,” they say.

A Downing Street official insisted that any company looking to exploit shale gas would still need a licence from landowners at ground level or controlling access to a site.

They would also need an exploration licence from the energy department, planning permission from the local council and environmental permits from the Environment Agency.

“What is being considered is whether we can clear up the underground access regime for shale gas development; in other words, what goes on potentially miles under a householder’s property,” he said.

Under existing rules, if a company fails to negotiate “subsurface access” with a landowner they can still seek compulsory purchase but this is typically a cumbersome process which can take months or years.

The changes to the law will form part of a wider infrastructure bill that includes changes to the planning system and new freedoms for the Highways Agency.

But John Sauven, head of Greenpeace, said that ministers were trying to “render people powerless” to oppose fracking under their homes in what could turn out to be a toxic policy for the Conservative party.

Fracking, or “hydraulic fracturing”, involves pumping chemicals, water and sand at high pressure into shale rock to release the gas trapped within.

It is opposed by some environmentalists who are concerned about the impact on the water table and the potential for earth tremors.

The news comes as a senior committee of the House of Lords is poised to call for the government to move faster to encourage the growth of the still fledgling industry.

The Lords economics committee, whose members include Lord Lawson, the former chancellor – and climate change sceptic – will on Wednesday urge the government to grant permits more quickly to drilling companies.

Mr Cameron has accused the EU of imposing “burdensome” red tape on the fracking industry, which has meant progress has been much slower than in the US, where the technique has transformed the energy market.

Ministers are expected to issue a new round of licences for onshore oil and gas companies in the coming months.

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