test drilling

Southport could face fast-track drilling under Conservative shale gas plans.

199 constituencies across the UK – including 56 in the north west – could face the threat of test drilling without planning permission under plans unveiled in the Conservative manifesto, analysis by Friends of the Earth reveals.

The manifesto, unveiled yesterday (18 May), promises to let fracking firms with exploration licences [1] carry out test drills for shale gas without any need for planning permission. This means that companies could drill and sample a well, often the first step towards full-scale fracking, without planning permission.

This move would require a change in the law to bring drilling under the “permitted development” regime [2] originally designed to deal with minor and low impact building works, such as changing garden fences [3].

Under the current spread of licences, this proposed change would mean 199 constituencies across the UK facing fast-track test drilling if the next government is Conservative, Friends of the Earth’s analysis shows. This includes 56 constituencies across the north west [6].

Companies holding these licences could be able to drill, without the need for a planning application, environmental impact assessment or any form of local democratic participation.

The Conservative manifesto also promises to change the law so that full-scale fracking applications could be taken away from local councils, if the application is considered “major”. This would mean applications would be considered by the Planning Inspectorate in Bristol rather than the local authority, which would take away the role of elected councillors and marginalise the views of local people.

Friends of the Earth senior planner, Naomi Luhde-Thompson, said:

“This proposal could see shale gas test drills puncture the countryside left, right and centre – with local democracy trampled underfoot.

We are also extremely concerned that the final decision on proposals for full-scale fracking could be taken away from local councillors. This is hugely undemocratic, marginalises the views of local people, and goes against the Tories own localism agenda.

“If there was a referendum on fracking, it would be banished to the dustbin of history, not least because it is completely incompatible with stopping climate change. Instead, the Conservatives are proposing to railroad it through against the wishes of local people and the wider public.”