A letter leaked to Friends of the Earth (FoE) reveals government plans to implement industrial-scale shale gas production within 10 years, the environmental group said.
The government will make this happen by taking away from local councils the right to decide on future shale gas production, FoE said.
According to FoE, the leaked letter highlights plans from energy secretary Amber Rudd, environment secretary Liz Truss and local government secretary Greg Clark to bring commercial shale production within the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Planning regime.
Details within the letter, which was addressed to Chancellor George Osborne, mean decisions on fracking would be taken by Clark, as opposed to local councils.
A similar policy was announced during August last year as the government said it would ‘fast-track’ shale gas planning applications. Under those guidelines, local councils have the chance to determine applications within the current 16-week statutory timeframe. Thereafter, subsequent applications would potentially be decided by the Clark.
Commenting on details within the leaked letter, FoE chief executive Craig Bennett said: “The government is planning another attack on democracy in relation to fracking.
“The prime minister has said that communities would have a fair say in whether or not fracking should happen near them, but as this letter makes clear, this isn’t being reflected or honoured in the highest levels of Government.”
In response to news of the leaked letter, industry body UK Onshore Oil and Gas (UKOOG) said it is committed to consulting and working with local communities to develop the gas resources that this country needs to access to strengthen its energy security.
It also welcomed plans to make shale a “national priority” – as announced by the government last year.
UKOOG chief executive Ken Cronin said: “Recent experience has shown that the planning process for exploration needs to be made quicker and within prescribed timescales. The time taken for planning decisions has soared from three months to over a year and this is prohibitively expensive for local councils and operators.”
He did, however, reiterate the importance of local people being allowed to put forward their point of view, and said they must be assured that the highest standards of safety and environmental protection are met.
“But unless the industry can drill exploratory wells we will not know whether gas can be produced economically and safely,” he said.