No Summer holidays allowed. It has been a key month for the shale industry in England.
14th Landward Licensing Round
Yesterday (18th August) the Oil and Gas Authority awarded a further 27 licences where shale gas and oil may be explored. Invites were made to bid for the new licences on 28 July 2014, and a year on licences in the 14th Licensing Round have just been awarded to a mix of prospectors including: ADM, Aurora, Cirque, Cuadrilla, Egdon, GDF, Hutton, Igas and Ineos.
The latest round of licences include further large areas in Lancashire and Yorkshire. Further licences will be awarded for areas in those and other counties, including Nottinghamshire, the Isle of White,Lincolnshire, Dorset, and Somerset. However, these await the outcome of appropriate assessment under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 prior to award. This is due to the proximity of the licence areas to European protected sites. For details of the latest licensing round awards, click here.
New Guidance on Shale
The long awaited guidance to assist the public in forming a view on shale on the back of more rounded information was finally released by DECC on 13 August. Please click here to read in full.
This could not come soon enough for promoters of shale sites who are faced with significant press and public opposition to their development proposals. Cuadrilla, after long planning delays has recently been refused planning permission by Lancashire County Council at its Preston New Road site at Plumpton in Flyde, and its Roseacre Wood site between Preston and Blackpool. Cuadrilla is now considering its options on appeal.
Changes to Planning Process
Following on from the refusals, the Secretary of State for Climate Change gave a wide ranging statement on the importance of shale gas for the UK's energy mix and economic growth (for Amber Rudd's 10 August update: click here). Following this, the Government announced on 13 August that it would seek to exercise powers to fast track shale gas planning applications.
Councils will, as of now, be charged with deciding applications within a 16 week determination period. However, if they fail to do so, the Government is proposing to call in applications for its own determination, and direct the Planning Inspectorate to fast track any inquiry call in through, or planning appeal inquiry.
The changes announced do not amount to a major departure from existing processes, but are more a statement of intent from the Government that they will use existing powers available to it to push forward with shale, which it sees as a national priority in the face of local planning authority animosity.
Whilst in Wales and Scotland devolved administrations remain averse to shale, in England the Government is now putting in place the final pieces of the jigsaw to make David Cameron's promise to go "all out for shale" a reality.
Cuadrilla's recent set backs have finally confirmed for the Government that decisions on shale planning applications need the threat of central Government intervention if they are to get through the system quickly and successfully.
With the further licensing round now in full flow, and a benign Government in place, in England the positive future for shale gas appears to have arrived.