The UK Government has stated that it will not be including shale gas extraction within the nationally significant infrastructure project (NSIP) planning regime in England. This means that planning decisions on shale gas extraction (along with all other on-shore oil and gas schemes and coal schemes) will be made by the relevant local authority in the first instance. Planning guidance on shale gas extraction is due to be published in July 2013.
The Government's comments on shale gas were included in its response to its consultation on expanding the NSIP regime published on Friday 21 June. The Government said that "Shale gas extraction has yet to take place at a commercial scale in this country and, as it develops, the Government will ensure that an effective planning system is in place".
Including shale gas within this regime would have allowed planning applications for shale gas extraction to be made directly to the Secretary of State with the benefit of the streamlined examination procedure and the possibility of wrapping in other consents. On the other hand, the pre-application consultation requirements under the NSIP regime are time consuming and highly prescriptive meaning that applications have to be "front-loaded" accelerating the usual schedule for completion of project design and the necessary risk assessments.
It is likely that the Government will keep the position under review and could re-consider including shale gas in the regime in future if development is in fact stalled by local authorities. Under the current legislation, the Government could also direct that a specific project should be determined under the NSIP regime if it can be persuaded that the project is of national significance.
The consultation document is available here.