The safe development of shale gas will be good for jobs, good for our energy security, and help the UK to decarbonise its economy. I believe that we need a diverse energy mix, and that shale gas can play a part in that.
I believe that the right protections are in place to ensure that fracking can go ahead safely without risk to our most beautiful and important natural sites. People should have confidence that the UK’s world leading environmental regulations will deliver clean, safe shale gas extraction. For this reason, the Government is providing further reassurance for our most valued areas. With these protections in place, I think it is right that we explore and make use of shale gas and oil.
Regulations now protect some of the country’s most beautiful areas, including National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, meaning shale gas exploration cannot take place at depths of less than 1,200 metres in these areas. The Government is also committed to banning wells drilled at the surface of these areas or within Sites of Special Scientific Interest.
Local communities must and will remain fully involved in planning decisions, but nobody benefits from the uncertainty caused by delay, so local planning authorities need to ensure that decisions are made within the 16-week statutory timeframe which is consistent with all major industrial projects. Ministers have already set up a £1.2 million support programme to ensure authorities have the resources to take timely decisions, but in the event councils continue to perform poorly they will consider calling in applications and appeals.
I am pleased that the Government understands that it is critical for the industry to have the confidence of the public if it is to flourish in the long term.