The U.K. government will introduce a law to make exploring for shale oil and gas easier.
In a speech setting out the government’s legislative plans for the next year, Queen Elizabeth II said a bill would be proposed to “enhance the U.K.’s energy independence and security by opening up access to shale and geothermal sites.”
Today, companies planning to drill onshore need to obtain consent from every landowner whose property a well may pass under. The new law will remove the need for this permission, the government said. Drilling for shale often involves horizontal wells that run for hundreds of meters, so can pass under several different properties.
David Cameron’s government wants the development of shale reserves to replace aging North Sea fields and cut energy costs. The U.K. estimates areas in northern England may hold 1,300 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, enough to meet demand for 50 years at an extraction rate similar to U.S. fields.
The proposed legislation will bring the sector in line with the mining industry and have “no noticeable effect on the lives of home and property owners,” the U.K. Onshore Operators Group, an industry body, said in a statement.
Communities will receive 20,000 pounds ($34,000) per unique lateral well drilled for more than 200 meters, it said.
“It serves no-one if an anomaly in the legal system allows the few to block access to much needed natural resources that lie deep below the surface of the U.K. and can benefit the whole of the country,” the group said.
Opponents of shale exploration say it’s wrong to allow the use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, under people’s property without permission. The process has been blamed for causing tremors.
“Ministers are losing the argument on fracking and are now steamrolling over people’s rights in order to sacrifice our countryside and climate,” John Sauven, an executive director at Greenpeace, said in a statement. “This is all for the sake of an industry which will have a marginal impact on providing energy security.”
If approved by parliament, the Bill could be passed in time for the 2015 election, Tim Pugh, a partner at law firm Berwin Leighton Paisner LLP, said in an e-mailed response to questions.