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Shale gas exploration tests 'will not require planning permission'

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The UK Government is expected to make shale gas exploration even easier for energy companies by scrapping the requirement for planning permission to be in place before exploration work can be carried out.

Despite the fact that drilling boreholes and carrying out controlled underground explosions will no longer be delayed by planning, companies will still have to adhere to the safety regulations already followed by those carrying out gas and oil exploration.

Restrictions on explosives, for example, will be in place to minimise the impact of noise and other associated impacts.

Companies will also be permitted to build drilling rigs to test for methane in groundwater to a height of 15 metres, which is an increase in allowance from the 12 metre limit currently in place.

A spokesman for Onshore Oil and Gas, the UK body for the industry, said: “This simply brings the onshore oil and gas industry in line with water companies and other industries which drill dozens of boreholes a year and perform subsurface monitoring, including seismic surveys, as a matter of course, with no lasting impact on the environment and hardly anyone noticing.”

However, a number of critics and environmental campaigners have argued that the move will reduce the amount of power that local communities have, and increase the likelihood of their views being ignored by fracking companies.

The proposals to remove the need for planning permission are contained in secondary legislation that follows on from a consultation held in December last year, and this will be presented to Parliament in the near future.

As part of its initial response to the December consultation, the Department for Communities and Local Government stated that a change in policy is needed in order to “enable monitoring and investigation work to be undertaken to inform any future planning application”.