Access changes for underground drilling proposed

Shale gas operators may be given access to carry out underground drilling for petroleum (including shale oil and gas) or geothermal heat extraction below 300 metres, without the consent of the landowner.

The Government has published a consultation outlining proposals to change the system which currently requires operators to gain the landowner’s permission before carrying out drilling, or to apply to the courts to grant access in cases where the landowner refuses consent.

Changes to the system are being proposed to try to enable faster development of UK shale gas resources which the Government believes could have significant benefits for the UK economy and energy security. While an existing means of gaining access is available, the shale gas industry has argued that this process is a barrier to development due to the time and cost of identifying relevant landowners, negotiating access and going through the courts where necessary.

The consultation outlines proposals for a voluntary payment system where a drilling company would make a payment of £20,000 to the community for each lateral well it drills.  With each well potentially having multiple laterals this could make a significant fund available for community projects, although details of how such a fund would operate are not included in the consultation.

The consultation can be accessed here and closes on 15 August. 

The CLA will submit a response and would welcome any member feedback on the details of the consultation.

Our initial concern is that the consultation places too much emphasis on the needs of the shale gas operators and makes no attempt to address the concerns of landowners with regard to long term liability associated with shale gas. 

The shale gas industry has made no attempt to make use of existing arrangements for gaining access and has not demonstrated that the existing means for gaining access is unworkable.  We are also concerned by the lack of detail included in the consultation, particularly on the community payment mechanism and how this would work. 

CLA President Henry Robinson wrote to Minister for Energy and Climate Change Ed Davey in February on this issue and while we will be responding to this consultation, the CLA will write again to Mr Davey on the serious issues of landowner rights, long term liability and the community funds – the details of which are absent from the consultation