UK government begins consultation on shale gas planning reforms

FILE PHOTO: Anti-fracking protesters during a demonstration outside County Hall in Preston, Britain June 24, 2015. Lancashire County Council is debating an application by shale gas firm Cuadrilla Resources to frack on the Fylde coast, local media reported. REUTERS/Andrew Yates

LONDON (Reuters) - The British government said on Thursday it had launched a consultation on proposed reforms to planning regulations for shale gas exploration in England.

In May, the government announced measures to speed up planning applications to support development of the country’s shale gas industry.

The measures included a proposal for fracking sites to be classified as “nationally significant infrastructure”, which would mean approval for planning applications would be done at a national rather than local level.

The consultation will seek views on whether to designate exploratory drilling for shale gas as a new form of permitted development, meaning that planning consent would not be required, the government said in a statement.

It added that exploratory drilling for shale deposits are treated separately from full hydraulic shale gas extraction but both will remain subject to strict planning and environmental controls.

The consultation will be open until Oct. 25 and the government will respond to its findings later in the year.

Earlier this month, UK lawmakers warned that the plans to transfer shale oil and gas exploration planning decisions from local authorities to the national level would be a backward step and harm local democracy.

Reporting by Nina Chestney; Editing by Mark Heinrich