Concern at ‘reckless’ gas drilling plans

Queen Elizabeth II delivers her speech in the House of Lords during the State Opening of Parliament at the Palace of Westminster in London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday June 4, 2014. See PA story POLITICS Speech. Photo credit should read: Carl Court/PA Wire
Queen Elizabeth II delivers her speech in the House of Lords during the State Opening of Parliament at the Palace of Westminster in London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday June 4, 2014. See PA story POLITICS Speech. Photo credit should read: Carl Court/PA Wire
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Plans to drill under homes for shale gas without permission by property owners moved a step nearer after changes were made to a Government bill.

Members at the House of Lords moved to vote in amendments for the Infrastructure Bill which would allow shale gas companies the right to drill at 300m under homes – even if the property owner above ground refused permission.

The amendments allow companies to put “any substance” under land in the context of exploiting gas and petroleum.

Campaigners say fracking firms could leave potentially dangerous chemicals under people’s homes.

The bill is to be discussed again by all Lords at a further meeting before being voted on by MPs at the House of Commons – but campaigners today called the amendments “reckless.”

Tina Rothery, of Residents Action on Fylde Fracking, said: “It is drilling under homes and properties.

“It gives leeway to leave chemicals and waste underground. We think it’s very reckless and we’re concerned.”

Shale gas company Cuadrilla wants to drill and frack for gas at Roseacre and Little Plumptons on the Fylde coast.

The process involves firing a mixture of water and chemicals underground at high speed to crack, or fracture, shale rock.

The decision by the Lords comes despite a Government consultation earlier this year into underground drilling access for the extraction of gas, oil or geothermal energy, which showed almost all respondents were against such plans.

In a poll of more than 40,000 people, 99 per cent opposed the proposal to provide underground access to gas, oil and geothermal below 300m.

Bob Dennett, of chairman of the Blackpool and Fylde Green Party, added: “I think it is a reckless decision for democracy.”

Baroness Sandip Verma, who proposed the amendments, said: “Where a single landowner, or a group of landowners, refuses access, this can create significant delay and is likely to stop the project entirely. 
“This is despite the fact that allowing underground access at depths below 300m is unlikely to affect the landowners’ use of their land. These amendments therefore seek to simplify the current process by granting use of land below 300m in order to access resources.”

A Cuadrilla spokesperson said: “The UK will need solar, wind, nuclear and gas to meet our electricity and heating needs for many years to come. Indeed a local online survey of more than 6,000 people showed last week that many believe like us that the development of natural gas from UK shale could have an important role to play in helping to secure the UK’s energy future.

“The proposed changes to the Land Access legislation would align the onshore oil and gas industry with other types of sub surface activity such as coal mining, telecommunications cabling, pipelines carrying gas, water and electricity, which all have a legal basis for their sub-surface activities. This will reduce the uncertainty and potential delays in progressing onshore gas and oil exploration and extraction created by the existing Land Access law. Hydraulic fracturing in shale rock is typically at depths of several thousand feet below the surface of the land using well diameters of six to eight inches, with the fractures created in the rock being just millimetres wide.

“We agree with both the Government’s assertion and recent case law that the landowners’ enjoyment of surface land is not impaired at all by this activity. We also support the proposed local communities benefit scheme that form part of these proposals.

“Any chemicals used in our fracturing fluid must be approved by the Environment Agency and the EA has advised that the chemical composition of fracturing fluid must be non-hazardous to groundwater. If planning permission is granted for our proposed exploration the fracturing fluid we would use would comprise of at least 99.95% water and sand and less than 0.05% friction reducer. Our planning applications for Preston New Road and Roseacre Wood are accompanied by comprehensive Environmental Statements which are the product of thousands of hours of work from independent expert environmental scientists and other engineering specialists. These documents show shale gas exploration can be done safely and in an environmentally responsible way.”