UK Government Frack Plans Slammed

26 September 2014, 06:00 | Updated: 26 September 2014, 06:23

The Scottish Government has condemned UK plans to allow fracking companies to drill below people's land without their agreement.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) said it will press ahead with proposals to simplify underground access for oil and gas developers despite the objection of 99% of respondents to a consultation.

The UK-wide plan would give companies the right to drill at depths of 300 metres or more under private land without negotiating a right of access.

Energy Minister Fergus Ewing said decisions on oil and gas drilling in Scotland should be made by the people who live there, and powers relating to the issue should be included in the current devolution process.

Mr Ewing said: "UK Government proposals to remove the right of Scottish householders to object to drilling under their homes, without so much as debate in the Scottish Parliament, flies in the face of Scotland's cautious, considered and evidence based approach on this issue. It is also fundamentally an issue affecting land ownership rights.

"Whatever your view on the issue of unconventional oil and gas - and it is clear that there are both opportunities and concerns - there is only one way that the people of Scotland can determine the approach in Scotland - including beneath their homes and land.

"That is with the devolution of the necessary powers to Scotland and the current devolution process for the ''extensive new powers" promised in the vow should include these powers.

"Unconventional oil and gas developments should only ever happen under a robust regulatory regime, and the Scottish Government takes this issue particularly seriously.''

Hydraulic fracturing or fracking involves pumping water, chemicals and sand at high pressure underground to fracture shale rock and release the gas trapped in it. Wells can be drilled horizontally, leading to exploration under land around the site.

The DECC ran a consultation from May 23 to August 15 asking respondents whether the government should legislate for underground access to gas, oil and geothermal developers below 300 metres.

Of the 40,647 people who responded, more than 99% opposed the idea.

In their submissions opponents said there should be more focus on renewable energy sources and that "changing laws that protect people's private property to aid the extraction of unconventional gas is wrong''.

People who supported the plan said there was significant economic benefit in easing access for developers.

The Government response, published today, said: "We acknowledge the large number of responses against the proposal and the fact that the proposal has provided an opportunity for the public to voice their concerns and raise issues.

"However the role of the consultation was to seek arguments and evidence to consider in developing the proposed policy. Whilst a wide range of arguments were raised and points covered, we did not identify any issues that persuaded us to change the basic form of the proposals.

"Having carefully considered the consultation responses, we believe that the proposed policy remains the right approach to underground access and that no issues have been identified that would mean that our overall policy approach is not the best available solution.

"We will therefore put before Parliament primary legislation to implement the policy proposals set out in the consultation paper. Parliament's scrutiny of the provisions will provide further opportunities for public engagement on the issues.''

The consultation stated that under the present system a single landowner had the power to significantly delay a development "even though the drilling and use of underground wells does not affect their enjoyment of their land''.

"We intend to change this system by making it less burdensome for companies to gain underground access rights,'' it said.

Companies looking to develop shale gas and oil would still need to obtain all the necessary environmental and planning permissions but the proposed legislation would effectively remove the issue of trespass at depths of 300 metres or more.

Under the proposals people living on the ground above a horizontal well extending more than 200 metres would receive a payment of £20,000.

Mary Church, head of campaigns at Friends Of The Earth Scotland, said: "It is absolutely outrageous that the UK Government has ignored over 99% of responses to this consultation, and the stated objection of the Scottish Government, that the removal of people's rights to object to fracking underneath their homes is simply unacceptable.

"This is literally legislating for the 1%.

"(David) Cameron and (George) Osborne's blinkered dash for gas risks putting the UK on course for climate catastrophe and endangers the health and wellbeing of communities across central and southern Scotland.''