Fracking: Government promises 'faster and fairer' planning decisions

A fracking site in Kirby Misperton North Yorkshire

The UK government on Thursday set out plans to accelerate the drilling approval process for shale gas in England as part of a new push to exploit the country's vast unconventional gas resources and reduce dependence on imports.

"With all the inherent risks of fracking anyone would think that the government would at least want the process done properly and fairly, rather than wrestling what modest power local people have to object away from them".

He added "it is right to utilise our domestic gas resources to the maximum extent" and explore potential for onshore production. "Recent decisions on shale exploration planning applications remain disappointingly slow against a statutory time frame of 16 weeks where an Environmental Impact Assessment is required", the statement reads.

The government will also launch a new 1.6 million pound ($2.2 million) shale support fund over the next two years to build capacity and expertise in local authorities dealing with shale planning applications and set up a shale environmental regulator.

The government proposals were less warmly received by opponents of the controversial practice, who have long protested that fracking is damaging to the local environment.

"The Government remains fully committed to making planning decisions faster and fairer for all those affected by new development, and to ensure that local communities are fully involved in planning decisions that affect them", the ministers said.

He has also suggested a consultation on whether shale production projects should go into the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects regime, which would mean the decision on whether to allow fracking to start at a drill site would go the the Government alone.

Cuadrilla Resources - which completed the first vertical shale gas exploration well in the United Kingdom for six years earlier this year and is now working on horizontal wells - said the government recognized that shale gas can deliver important economic benefits.

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"Britain's fracking experiment was on life support, and now the Government is trying its best to shock it back into life", said Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas.

"This announcement is a green light for climate breakdown".

Rebecca Newsome, Head of politics for Greenpeace UK, said: "After seven years of fracking doing less than nothing to help our economy, the government's still going all out for shale, and still trampling over democracy to prop up this collapsing industry".

Permission to frack would also be the remit of a central government agency and not local councils; the representatives of local people.

And fracking in widely used in the United States, where it has revolutionised the energy industry.

"This country needs a diverse supply of energy which protects and secures United Kingdom jobs and United Kingdom taxes", he said.

"We oppose any proposal for shale exploration to be allowed to bypass the locally democratic planning system through permitted development or national planning inspectors", she said.

It looks like, after seven years, the battle over the future of the United Kingdom fracking industry is still a long way from being decided.

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