Red tape ‘could strangle fracking’

John Kersey, chairman of the Institute of Directors in Lancashire
John Kersey, chairman of the Institute of Directors in Lancashire
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The head of one of Lancashire’s biggest business bodies has warned red tape is threatening to drive the fracking industry away from the county.

John Kersey, chairman of the Institute of Directors in the county, has accused the county’s councils to allowing regulation to hold up work on wells and choking off 1,300 jobs per year which it has been claimed could be created over the next decade.

It follows the decision of Cuadrilla Resources, the company bidding to tap into gas locked under the Lancashire countryside, to halt drilling at one of its three rigs in the county until next month.

The firm had planned to fracture and test at least two of the rigs by this year but has now put work on hold to carry out a wide-ranging environmental impact assessment.

Mr Kersey claims this is an example of regulation working to “frustrate rather than facilitate” the industry.

In an opinion column for today’s lepbusinessweek, he said: “Although the Energy Secretary has given the go-ahead at the national level, there are overlapping requirements for planning consent, environmental risk assessment, environmental impact assessment, and environmental permits, all of which must be undertaken before operations can proceed.

“Each process has its own requirements of consultation, often with the same consultees, and is open to contest and seemingly indefinite delays.

“It is quite clear that some opponents of the nascent onshore natural gas industry in the UK would be delighted to see prevarication and delay continue – there seems to be a targeted effort to stall the early exploration of Lancashire’s gas resources, and deny the county and the country the opportunity to evaluate this resource. We need to see a much more streamlined system, particularly for the exploration phase, and the regulators need to work together more effectively.”

He said the new Office for Unconventional Gas and Oil (OUGO) needed to draw up guidance for local councils and agreements to offer “clear deliverables and timescales.”

Cuadrilla chief executive Francis Egan admitted the delays announced last week had hampered its ambitions but insisted the company would do “whatever it takes” to get approval to extract 200 trillion cubic feet of gas.

But, campaigners opposed to the controversial process, which involves gallons of water and a chemical being blasted into shale rock to unlock gas pockets, have pressed for even tighter regulation of the burgeoning industry, which was blamed for a pair of small earthquakes in Lancashire in 2011.