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The UK's Coalition Government ran a "public consultation" between May and August, 2014, on a proposal designed to simplify existing procedures for underground access intended to exploit oil, gas or geothermal resources. Behind the initiative was a desire to facilitate hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") for gas and oil in the UK, where existing procedures (especially the capacity of landowners to block access) are considered costly and time-consuming. The resulting report from the Department of Energy & Climate Change: "Underground Drilling Access: Government Response to the Consultation …" was published on September 25th. The Report has aroused several concerns.
The Report makes it clear that the main focus is on freeing up access to gas and oil which may be located over 300 metres below surface level. Over 99% of respondents opposed the proposal, and most of these came from those who object to shale gas exploration, recovery and use because they oppose the avoidable use of fossil fuels; and supported campaigns to block it. Their views were set aside primarily because they did not address the consultation questions. Even for someone like myself, who supports shale gas exploration and recovery through fracking in principle, provided clear safeguards and compensatory mechanisms are in place in case something goes wrong, there was something disturbing about the effective dismissal of such a large body of opinion. The fact that most of this opposition came from those who appear immune to what the former Secretary of State at the Department of the Environment, Owen Paterson, has referred to as "the intense public dissatisfaction with heavily subsidized renewable energy technologies, in particular onshore wind" does not entirely eradicate this concern.