LONDON, Feb. 1 (UPI) -- A British plan to develop an industrial-scale shale natural gas industry within a decade is an "attack on democracy," an environmental campaign group said.
Advocacy group Friends of the Earth said it's managed to preview British documents that outline how cabinet ministers aim to put the regulatory regime in the hands of the federal government, wrestling control away from local councils.
"The government is planning another attack on democracy in relation to fracking," Friends of the Earth Chief Executive Craig Bennett said in a statement.
Friends of the Earth said the documents show the government aims to develop a commercial shale industry under the terms of a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Planning mechanism. The leaked letter comes weeks before public inquiries weigh the prospects for shale gas exploration plans developed by energy company Cuadrilla Resources for basins in Lancashire.
Cuadrilla last year appealed decisions by the Lancashire County Council to deny permits for a hydraulic fracturing campaign in the area.
The British government estimates shale basins in the country may hold more than 1.3 quadrillion cubic feet of natural gas, a level the government said could help an economy with natural gas imports on pace to increase from 45 percent of demand in 2011 to 76 percent by 2030.
INEOS, a chemical company led by billionaire Jim Ratcliffe, in December became the largest shale gas acreage holder in the country when it was awarded 21 licenses by the British government. Ratcliffe at the time said the award demonstrated the British government was "determined" to build a viable shale gas industry.
Last year, Andrea Leadsom, minister of state at Department of Energy and Climate, said a shale gas industry would help ensure energy security and potentially add 65,000 new jobs to the British economy. This week, the Scottish government said it was offering a support package to back North Sea energy workers who are losing their jobs.