Fracking could be allowed under homes without owners’ permission

Tony Gosling tony at
Fri Apr 4 15:23:07 BST 2014

Fracking could be allowed under homes without owners’ permission

Ministers admit they are looking at overhauling 
trespass laws to make it easier for energy companies to explore for shale gas

Gosden, Energy Editor

11:12PM GMT 26 Jan 2014

Fracking will be allowed to take place under 
homes without the owners’ permission, under plans 
being considered by the Government.

Ministers have admitted that they are looking at 
overhauling trespass laws to make it easier for 
energy companies to explore for shale gas, amid 
concern that efforts could otherwise be stymied 
by lengthy and costly court proceedings.

The plans, expected to be published for 
consultation in coming months, are likely to be 
the most controversial yet in the Prime 
Minister’s attempts to encourage fracking.

Shale gas exploration typically involves drilling 
down vertically and out horizontally, often for 
more than a mile. Under current law, companies 
need permission from all the landowners beneath 
whose land they drill. Case law shows they would 
otherwise be committing trespass. If a landowner 
refused permission, the company would have to 
take them to court, which would decide whether to 
award drilling rights and how much compensation should be paid.

While compensation is likely to be a nominal 
amount – probably less than £100 – companies fear 
the court proceedings could be costly and drawn 
out by years of appeals, and have been lobbying for the law to be changed.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change has 
now confirmed that it is reviewing whether the 
existing process is “fit for purpose”.

A Whitehall source said: “All options are on the 
table. It would be difficult to implement a 
regime that removed any kind of compensation. You 
could change the rules so you have a de facto 
right, but then you have to pay. The compensation could be less than £100.”

One option would be the introduction of a kind of 
compulsory purchase regime, similar to that used 
by companies needing to lay pipelines 
underground. Fracking involves pumping water, 
sand and chemicals down a well at high pressure 
to fracture the rocks and extract gas trapped 
within them, and is fiercely opposed by environmental groups.

Greenpeace has sought to use the existing law to 
block fracking by encouraging thousands of 
landowners in shale-rich areas to declare that 
they do not give consent for drilling. Legal 
experts said landowners could attempt to take out 
injunctions, presenting a further barrier for companies.

If trespass law were changed, companies would 
still need to negotiate access rights for the 
surface drilling site as well as planning 
permission from the local council and other 
permissions from government and environmental regulators.

A spokesman for the DECC said: “Shale gas and oil 
operations that involve fracking in wells drilled 
over a mile down are highly unlikely to have any 
discernible impacts closer to the surface.

“Like any other industrial activity, oil and gas 
operations require access permission from 
landowners. But there is an existing legal route 
by which operators can apply for access where 
this can’t be negotiated. We’re currently 
considering whether this existing route is fit 
for purpose. Similar access issues apply to deep geothermal energy projects.”

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