Published: Thursday, 20th August 2015
Planning authorities, predominately in the midlands and the north of England, will find themselves in the fracking front-line following this week’s announcement by the UK’s oil and gas regulator.
It was announced that 27 onshore blocks are being formally offered for firms to hunt for oil and gas as part of the so-called 14th licensing round. This involves shale gas exploration and the prospect of fracking.
A second group of 132 further blocks has been subjected to detailed assessment under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010, the findings of which are now out for consultation.
Subject to the outcome of that consultation, the Oil & Gas Authority (OGA) will announce offers for the second group of licence blocks later in the year. The licences for all offered blocks will then be granted after the terms and conditions have been finalised.
Tens of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) fall within the oil and gas exploration blocks in England identified on Tuesday (18 August).
Energy firms like IGas, Cuadrilla and Ineos are among the companies who have been successful in winning some of the blocks announced. Igas was awarded seven areas, Cuadrilla has won two, and Ineos has also won three.
The blocks cover an area of 2,700 square kilometres. There are 53 SSSIs in the blocks, including in Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and around Sheffield, according to environmental campaigners.
A “block” is an area of land, typically extending to 10 square kilometres. The licence granted under the provisions of the Petroleum Act 1998, affords exclusive rights to licensees “to search and bore for and get petroleum” in all the various stages of oil and gas operations.
The licence itself does not confer on the licensee any consent, approval or permission to carry out specified development activities – all activities, such as drilling, will necessarily require further consents, including planning permission and environmental permits.
It’s likely there will be a far larger number of SSSIs in the 132 blocks that could be offered in a second tranche of the round, including sites in North Devon, the Isle of Wight, and a large concentration in North Yorkshire.
Catherine Howard, a planning partner at international law firm Herbert Smith Freehills, said: “It is no coincidence that just ahead of the award of licences, the government last week announced measures designed to overcome the delays being experienced by shale gas operators in obtaining planning permission, as well as confirming that it will legislate to ensure planning permission is deemed to have been granted (without application) for groundwater monitoring required for shale gas sites.”