Britain will use new powers to determine whether to allow shale gas firm Cuadrilla Resources to carry out fracking at two sites in northwest England, overruling local planning decisions.
Britain is estimated to have substantial amounts of shale gas trapped in underground rocks and Prime Minister Cameron has pledged to go all out to extract these reserves, to help offset declining North Sea oil and gas output.
Yet fracking applications have struggled to find approval from local communities, concerned about noise and environmental impacts, and to address this the government has changed planning rules to make its own decisions on shale gas appeals.
Local government minister Greg Clark has informed Lancashire County Council of the minister’s intention to himself determine Cuadrilla’s appeal on two rejected permits in the area in northwest England.
“Ministers have decided to recover Cuadrilla’s appeals for shale exploration in Lancashire,” the government said in a letter to the council dated Nov. 26.
Cuadrilla’s wells in Lancashire would be the first British shale gas wells where fracking is applied since hydraulic fracturing at a separate project near Blackpool, in Lancashire, triggered an earth tremor that resulted in an 18-month ban on the technology in 2011.
John Williams, senior principal consultant at the consultancy Poyry Management said a decision on the appeal could be made by the second half of 2016 but rules requiring the company to monitor water supplies at the site for 12 months before fracking can start would delay any gas extraction.
“We could see some drilling in the second half of 2017 but they still have to determine whether there are reserves that can be extracted economically and it would likely be 2018 at the earliest before a decision to move into full production would be taken,” he said.
A spokesperson for Cuadrilla said if the projects are given approval the company would begin water monitoring at the sites as soon as possible.
Britain changed its planning rules in August to allow government intervention to approve or reject shale gas drilling permits and give priority to appeals involving shale gas projects.
Lancashire Council earlier this year rejected two Cuadrilla applications for fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, underscoring some local community concerns about the technique.
Cuadrilla appealed against the rejections.
“If Cuadrilla is given permission to frack in Lancashire, it will be against the wishes of its residents, and its council, both of which have made their views against this risky process very clear,” said Donna Hume, senior energy campaigner at environmental group Friends of the Earth.
British Finance minister George Osborne on Wednesday confirmed the creation of a shale wealth fund that would receive up to 10 percent of tax revenue from shale gas developments for investments in communities affected by the projects.