The current exploration licences provide companies with the first step towards starting drilling for shale gas, but further drilling applications will require permits from the Environment Agency, planning permission and agreement from the Health and Safety Executive.

Around half of the UK is to be opened for exploration, including national parks, world heritage sites, the Broads and areas of outstanding beauty, however there will be tighter rules around exploration in these ‘protected’ areas.

Business and Energy Minister Matthew Hancock said: “The new guidance published today will protect Britain’s great national parks and outstanding landscapes.”

To be certain that guidance on environmental sites is being applied, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles is expected to make a final decision on appeals related to development in protected areas over the next 12 months, rather than leaving it to the planning watchdog.

DECC will also require detailed statements of environmental awareness from firms to be submitted with licence applications for these areas. Without proper assurances, DECC has said the application will be rejected.

Speeding up shale

Communities Minister Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon said that exploration of the UK’s shale gas resources under the Government’s application framework was key to “accelerate unconventional oil and gas development in a responsible and sustainable way.”

DECC has carried out a strategic environmental assessment (SEA) for further prospective onshore licencing (scroll down for SEA map).

Hancock said: “Unlocking shale gas in Britain has the potential to provide us with greater energy security, jobs and growth. We must act carefully, minimising risks, to explore how much of our large resource can be recovered to give the UK a new home-grown source of energy –

“Ultimately, done right, speeding up shale will mean more jobs and opportunities for people and help ensure long-term economic and energy security for our country.”

Last year, fracking developments in Balcombe in West Sussex led to weeks of protest at the site.

Earlier this month, Edie reported that new underground maps from the British Geological survey had found many shale gas deposits overlap with major UK water supplies, particularly in the South East. However, the findings suggest that fracking the in UK will pose a far lower risk to water supplies than it has in North America

Fracking remains controversial among energy campaigners calling for an end to the UK’s reliance on fossil fuels. Friends of the Earth energy campaigner Tony Bosworth said: “By protecting national parks and other special places, ministers accept that fracking risks impacts on the local environment – this safeguard should be offered to communities too.

“The Government’s desperate obsession with shale gas will continue to send shock waves across the UK, with millions of people now facing the prospect of fracking on their doorstep.

“Fracking is not the answer to our energy problems. If we want to boost energy security, tackle rising fuel prices and cut carbon we should be investing in efficiency and renewable power.”

MAP: DECC onshore licences and SEA areas

Matt Field

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