The Government have two “Open Consultations” about “Nationally Significant Infrastructure Planning” which close on the 7th Jan.
The first is about “Extending the regime to business and commercial projects”, projects that are not nationally significant or infrastructure. The list includes large office developments, manufacturing and storage facilities, conference and exhibition centres, Leisure, tourism, sports and recreation spaces. So stadiums are now infrastructure!
The second is about “Expanding and improving the ‘one stop shop’ approach for consents”, so making these projects that are not nationally significant or infrastructure more easily approved by central government.
The opening sentence of the introduction is revealing: Delivering economic growth is the over-riding priority for the Government, and improving the efficiency and speed of the planning process is a crucial part of creating the conditions for sustainable local growth.
So not only is there a misunderstanding of words like infrastructure and national significance. There is the oxymoron of sustainable local growth being achieved by imposing large centrally approved developments on areas with no redress to local government. The scandal is that Extractive Industries (mining and quarrying) and in particular onshore oil and gas extraction are included.
The potential Impact of these changes on Fracking & Unconventional Gas Development
The proposed threshold for gas developments to be considered nationally significant is 500,000 cubic meters per day. This is around 0.2% (or one 500 hundredth) of present UK consumption. The situation is similar for oil but the bar is even lower at 0.03% of consumption.
It is difficult to see how developments of this size could in anyway be justified as nationally significant. The largest previous onshore conventional gas field in the UK, Saltfleetby which has now been exhausted and converted to gas storage, would have qualified but there seems little likelihood of further conventional prospects of this size in the British Isles.
Unconventional gas and oil produce small amounts of hydrocarbons per well, for quite short periods of time, meaning that very large numbers of wells need to be drilled. The production decline rates of shale gas wells can easily be 70 percent per year. Saltfleetby required 8 wells in total. Unconventional gas will require hundreds or thousands of wells, spread across the countryside.
Unconventional exploration wells do not produce gas. Darts application for the first production development in UK, 22 wells on 14 new sites with 20km of pipeline at Airth, could potentially deliver up to 50,000 cubic meters per day. However Dart’s ultimate ambitions for this small licence block between Stirling and Falkirk would require around 600 wells and would likely exceed 500,000 cubic meters per day. Similarly Cuadrilla’s 5 test wells permitted so far would not qualify but widely circulated plans for 400-800 production wells definitely would. So we have to conclude that this change is all about unconventional gas.
These proposals are tailored to try to circumvent the massive opposition that there will be to these plans by moving decision making further away from the people affected.
There are 4 effects from this change that need to be considered:
- This change will favour large multinationals that can put together and fund large projects like Exxon.
- This change may allow companies to carry out the kind of exploration and production activity that we have seen to date without local government involvement. They could in theory just put in an ambitious plan, get it approved and then continue small scale incremental development with immunity from local planning scrutiny.
- The first two effects combine to become a strong incentive for all players to put in larger plans because they can potentially save time and money in a simplified approval process with central government. The smaller players will know that if they do not do likewise they will be swallowed or overtaken by larger players.
- The result for local populations is that they will be up against much bigger opposition that is supported by central government with no recourse to their local planners and democratic process.
These changes are intrinsic to the governments plans to pave the way for unconventional gas development in the British Isles and must be resisted.
More from Frack Off:
Huge gas plans for Airth: 100 rigs, compulsory purchase orders and fracking not ruled out
Cuadrilla are free to frack: Osborne’s plans on shale gas
Gas Mafia infiltrates ‘Greenest Government Ever`