Shale gas is a promising new potential energy resource which could create thousands of jobs, bring in billions in tax revenues and secure our energy supply for the future. However, let me assure you that I strongly believe fracking operations should be safe, and must not be at the expense of local communities or the environment.
As you may know, the Government has launched a consultation to simplify the process for shale gas underground drilling access. The proposals comprise access to underground land but only below 300m (nearly 1000ft), a voluntary payment from industry, and a voluntary public notification for access. However, any hydraulic fracturing would only occur at far greater depths of 1.5 kilometres (around 5000ft) or more.
The current procedures for shale gas exploration are costly, time-consuming and disproportionate. The new proposals would allow companies to explore the potential of shale gas sites while offering a community payment in return for underground access at depths so deep that the Energy Department states they will have no negative impact on landowners. I believe we need to strike the right balance between the legitimate concerns of landowners, and the benefits to the community and nation at large of permitting development.
Many other industries already access underground land in order to lay cables and build infrastructure such as water pipes and tunnels. These are much closer to the surface than the access concerned here. For example the deepest Tube station is around 32m below ground.
However, I must stress that the solution outlined in the consultation does not change any other aspect of the existing regulatory system, such as procedures for surface access, planning, environmental permits or safety controls. In particular, the proposals do not weaken existing requirements for public consultation prior to the granting of planning permission or environmental permits for developments.
Safety is the top priority. The UK has over 50 years of experience in regulating the onshore oil and gas industry and we have a strong regulatory regime for shale gas extraction.
I recognise the strong feelings on both sides of the argument and I support the undertaking of a public consultation so everyone can make their views known. It runs until 15 August and more details can be found online here: