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London to fast-track shale permits

Government says it's frustrated with a slow and confused decision-making process.

By Daniel J. Graeber
London to fast-track shale permits
Baseline studies set for Lancashire, where industry pioneers are looking to begin British shale gas campaign. Photo courtesy of the British Geological Survey.

LONDON, Aug. 13 (UPI) -- The British government said Thursday it plans to fast-track the permit process for shale oil and gas exploration to ensure the industry can gain traction.

Shale oil and gas exploration is in its infancy in a country looking to reduce its dependency on foreign reserves. The British Geological Survey estimated 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.

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The British government said Thursday it was calling on local councils to decide on shale permits within 16 weeks of an application.

"To ensure we get this industry up and running we can't have a planning system that sees applications dragged out for months, or even years on end," Energy and Climate Change Secretary Amber Rudd said in a statement.

With the new proposals, the government said it was making clear that shale is a national priority, which can't be delayed by a "slow and confused" local decision-making process.

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Last week, the BGS said it started setting an environmental baseline in Lancashire County, a proposed area for hydraulic fracturing, by drilling boreholes in the region to collect samples. The agency said it had local support for the operations that will employ drilling rigs.

The council in Lancashire in June voted to refuse permits to Cuadrilla Resources to start drilling in the area because of noise and visual impact concerns.

Cuadrilla estimates there may be as much as 200 trillion cubic feet of shale natural gas in Lancashire.

Advocacy group British Friends of the Earth expressed frustration with the government's proposals. Planning adviser Naomi Luhde-Thompson said in a statement the government was moving in direct opposition of its constituents.

"Rather than riding roughshod over local democracy to suit the interests of a dirty industry, ministers should champion real solutions to the energy challenges we face, such as boosting the U.K.'s huge renewable power potential and cutting energy waste," she said.

Rudd's office said shale gas could be part of a low-carbon economy.

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