The government could fast-track fracking without your consent

The Government is attempting to fast-track fracking by doing away with the need for the public to be consulted before test drilling goes ahead.

The changes mean the advice of locals would no longer be sought in the early stages of most new oil and gas developments.

The proposals have been criticised by campaign groups. They say the Government is increasing the risk of polluting the English and Welsh countryside by relaxing the environmental scrutiny given to the early stages of fracking.

The changes will not apply to Scotland, which has control of fracking regulation and has banned it from the country while it conducts further research into its safety. They are also unlikely to impact on Wales, which has responsibility for planning consent and has pledged to block all fracking applications.

In England, the changes will sidestep the need for public consultation by changing the way permits are allocated for the exploration phase of a site’s development – during which a company tests the site using conventional drilling techniques to determine how much oil or gas is present.

Under the proposed new permitting regime, the Environment Agency will no longer visit the site and conduct a thorough environmental audit before drawing up a set of tailored requirements for the company. Instead, it will create a one-size-fits all permit based on a set of standard rules that will be awarded to oil and gas companies showing they can meet the criteria.

“This is a big deal. To be looking to relax the rules on what is essentially a relatively new activity I think is irresponsible,” said David Santillo, senior scientist at Greenpeace Research Laboratories.

Fracking is a controversial process that releases gas and oil from shale by blasting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into the rock. It has yet to take hold in the UK but is widespread in the US, where it has been linked to earthquakes and pollution.

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