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News Extra: UK Government to fast-track shale gas planning applications

28 August 2015

A new round of onshore oil and gas exploration licences will be granted within weeks after energy secretary Amber Rudd decided to award them in two stages to speed up the development of fracking. The fledgling industry has suffered a series of setbacks, including Lancashire county council’s rejection of a fracking application by Cuadrilla Resources in July, which the company said it would appeal against.

The Government will now grant some licences from the 14th onshore round, which was launched last year, and delay others that require additional environmental checks. The process attracted 95 applications for 295 blocks.

DECC Secretary of State Amber Rudd said in a Sunday Times article that if necessary the planning regime would be changed to ensure applications were processed in a more timely manner than in the past.

“We can’t continue with a system in which applications are dragged out for months or even years on end, a system that doesn’t give certainty to industry and that could spell the end of a potentially vital national industry. We need a system that delivers timely planning decisions and that works effectively for local people and developers,” Rudd said.

She said the Government was given a mandate in the last general election to support the development of shale gas and this was now a priority.

“Britain has one of the best records in the world on this and we have used that experience to develop a regulatory system that does everything possible to allay people’s concerns and protect the environment. We have more than 50 years of drilling experience, which means standards are high, and we’ve also learnt valuable lessons from shale projects abroad.”

Britain is expected to import about 75% of its oil and gas by 2030 and hydrocarbons from UK shale beds could go some way to reduce that figure. Rudd said that shale could create more than 60,000 new jobs in the UK and generate billions of pounds for the economy.

She said the National College for Onshore Oil and Gas, headquartered in Blackpool and linked to colleges in Chester, Redcar and Cleveland, Glasgow and Portsmouth, would have an important role to play in training up engineers and technicians for the new industry.

Government plans to ensure communities and local authorities benefit from shale gas development include payments by operators of £100,000 for each exploration well site plus 1% of production revenue, worth £5m-£10m, to be used as the community sees fit. Councils will keep 100% of the business rate revenues from them, and a shale sovereign wealth fund for the north of England will be created.

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