* High public interest in unconventional oil and gas
* Environment Agency suggests longer application process
* Could delay shale gas activities for 6 months
By Nina Chestney
LONDON, Aug 9 Britain's Environment Agency (EA)
proposed new guidance on Friday that could further delay the
already lengthy application process for launching shale and
other unconventional oil and gas exploration.
Beset by protests that have made the question of whether to
allow shale drilling a national issue, shale firms complain that
the UK's complex application process takes months longer than in
the United States, discouraging investment.
In a technical guidance document on its website, the EA
proposed taking longer than normal to decide whether to give an
environmental permit for onshore oil and gas exploration if a
site is of "high public interest".
If approved, the agency said that the new guidance could
increase the time scale for granting environmental permits from
the current 13 weeks to six months or more to give it time to
consult properly with local communities.
That would be just the latest blow to an industry that the
government, keen on the jobs and revenue that Britain's
theoretically substantial shale gas reserves could generate, has
said it is keen to support.
"This has the potential to delay the exploration of shale
gas resources in the UK," said Simon Colvin, an expert on energy
and environmental regulations at law firm Pinsent Masons.
"The high public interest status could mean an extremely
lengthy process, taking into account a number of rounds of
The proposal is part of a consultation document which people
can comment on until October 23. The agency will then consider
the responses before publishing a final version of the guidance
later this year.
"Given the current level of public interest in
unconventional gas and oil exploration, it's likely that we will
treat such sites as being of high public interest," the agency
said in the document on its website. here
It has been estimated that Britain might have major shale
reserves but the amount which could be developed commercially is
The government is looking to shale gas to reduce its
reliance on natural gas imports and unveiled tax breaks last
month for shale gas developers, which analysts said could
attract more companies.
British exploration firms IGas and Cuadrilla are at
the exploration stage in shale gas, while other firms are
watching developments with interest. But they continue to face
Fracking, which retrieves gas and oil trapped in tight
layered rock formations by injecting high-pressure water, sand
and chemicals, has already been banned for a year in 2011 after
triggering small earthquakes. Protestors successfully blocked
access to a Cuadrilla site in southern England last month.
Developers already need to make nine separate applications
to the EA for a single exploratory well. They also have to get
planning permission from the Department of Energy and Climate
Change and the Health and Safety Executive.
"Delaying the process further is simply another layer of red
tape at the early stages of exploration," said Colvin.